Last year Tacoma City Council established the Medical Cannabis Task Force. This group of citizens is tasked with studying medical marijuana distribution in the city and to make recommendations on how to regulate this industry to the council. Stan Rumbaugh, chair of the task force, delivered an update on the group’s efforts during the March 22 meeting of the council’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee.
The handout used in the meeting included recommendations from the task force as well as input from city staff and Osborne Planning + Design, a Tacoma firm hired to assist in the process.
Rumbaugh studied ordinances in cities that have medical marijuana dispensaries, including Sacramento, San Jose, Denver and Ann Arbor, Mich.
The task force recommends new dispensaries be located a minimum of 1,000 feet away from churches, schools and daycare centers. Existing dispensaries could be within 500 of such facilities.
It recommends allowing dispensaries in downtown and existing commercial and industrial zones. They should not be allowed in residential areas. It recommends allowing collective gardens only in industrial areas.
The Osborne firm suggested the cultivation of medical cannabis could be restricted to one or more industrial districts.
Rumbaugh pondered how the flowering buds of the plants be considered under government regulations in relation to the leaves. “When you harvest the bud, you need to do something with the shake,” he remarked.
Dispensaries should be no larger than 2,000 square feet and no smaller than 500 for square feet if they only distribute cannabis to patients or are solely devoted to processing. They should be no larger than 3,000 square feet if, in addition to distributing marijuana, other services are provided. This could include classes or health services. Up to 150 square feet would be allowed for sale of marijuana delivery products. Staff suggests the task force provide information to demonstrate such suggestions have worked in other cities.
The task force recommends hours of operation between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Staff noted this may need to be addressed through the establishment of a regulatory license.
It recommends no one under the age of 18 be allowed to operate a distribution center, or to be a member, employee, contractor or volunteer.
An individual distributing marijuana should have liability insurance for at least $1 million, or $2 million in the aggregate for any claim.
Rumbaugh, an attorney, noted marijuana is illegal under federal law and that dispensaries in Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle have been raided by law enforcement officers. “None of this will provide any protection against federal prosecution,” he said.
The task force offered recommendations for security plans, including lighting, alarms and video surveillance. Cameras should monitor the interior, exterior and main entrance. Video should be maintained for at least 30 days and be provided to law enforcement agencies when requested.
Rumbaugh said such measures could make some patients uncomfortable. “There is a certain lack of dignity when you go to get a product for which you have a legitimate need in a fortress.”
The task force will take the feedback from the council committee and provide and update to Tacoma Planning Commission on April 4. The council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance based on the task force’s work in July.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said when Washington voters passed the initiative allowing medical marijuana use in 1998, few people expected to have numerous dispensaries open their doors. She said the city’s focus is to allow people with legitimate health problems to have access to their medicine.
“To think we will have control over every dealer, every grower, is unrealistic.”