Thursday, June 29, 2017 This Week's Paper

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Council moves closer to regulating medical marijuana clinics

Where should medical marijuana be allowed to be grown and sold in Tacoma?

A number of citizens shared their thoughts on the subject during the Tacoma City Council meeting on June 26.

The council is considering changes to zoning and land-use rules in that regard. Last year, the council passed a moratorium on dispensaries, after about 50 had opened across the city. Since then, city staff and residents have worked on crafting new rules on how to regulate them.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland opened the public hearing by telling the audience the city wants to allow ill people to obtain marijuana for medical use while not allowing illegal drug dealing.

Stan Rumbaugh, a local attorney, was co-chair of a task force created to provide the city’s Planning Commission with ideas on where these establishments and gardens should be allowed.

Rumbaugh said the group of residents tried to find a balance between having compassion for people suffering from medical problems and placing some restriction on commercial sales of medical marijuana.

Rumbaugh said the type of areas proposed by the task force to be used for medical marijuana distribution would be near public transit.

He said the group reviewed laws passed in other cities that have medical marijuana dispensaries.

Rumbaugh also noted the city’s rules are in conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which outlaws marijuana.

The current proposal would allow collective gardens in industrial zones and in certain mixed-use zones and parts of downtown. This would concentrate the growing in the Tideflats and South Tacoma.

Distribution centers would be allowed in zoning districts where commercial uses are currently allowed.

Dispensaries and gardens would be restricted from being within 1,000 feet of day care centers, schools and houses of worship. Dispensaries would be limited to a maximum of 2,000 square feet. Gardens would be limited to six at one location.

The commission also recommends a licensing program for these businesses. Any existing facilities would have to apply for this new license and comply with whatever new rules are adopted.

Jim Rich, speaking on behalf of South Tacoma Business District, said five dispensaries have opened near his business since the council enacted a moratorium. He said these five applied for different types of business licenses than the earlier dispensaries.

He said he has no problem with medical marijuana if it is regulated “in a reasonable manner.” Rich did express concern of having many such establishments close to each other. He asked the council to consider a provision that would disperse them more.

“We do not want South Tacoma to be the Green Cross Center of the city.”

Several people said some dispensaries would need to move if the council adopts the proposed changes to land use policy.

Jay Berneberg is an attorney who represents a number of dispensaries. He said one of his clients has invested about $75,000 in security measures at one dispensary located near a church. That client would be forced to move under the proposed new rules, Berneberg said. He requested an exemption for existing dispensaries.

The council is expected to vote on the proposal on July 17.