Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Vote Set For Tuesday

// Retail pot laws set for council action

Tacoma City Council is set to have a first reading on Tuesday of city rules governing the “seed-to-smoke” regulations of retail marijuana production and sales.

The action follows a public hearing this week and the release of draft interim regulations earlier this month that largely mirror state rules issued by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

Marijuana growing and processing operations will be allowed in the city’s tideflats, the Nalley Valley and heavy industrial zones. Retail sales will be allowed in all commercial and mixed-use zones that allow other retail operations, as long as they are not located within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, day care centers, transit centers, drug treatment centers, jails or courthouses. That pretty much leaves parts of Westgate, areas around the Tacoma Mall, strips of 6th Avenue and Marine View Drive for possible retail locations for up to eight marijuana stores allocated to the city by state regulators.

Pierce County will have up to 31 retail stores, with eight in Tacoma, based on its population. Puyallup and Lakewood can have up to two stores, while Bonney Lake and University Place would get one. The remaining 17 will be licensed around the rest of county and smaller towns. The actual number, however, might be higher if medical marijuana dispensaries are tallied into the mix, since they are not covered by the recreational, retail regulations. At least not yet.

Medical dispensaries are operating on shifting legal ground that might see a merging of the retail and medical rules during the next legislative session. Medical dispensaries might also see their market dry up with one-time patients simply shifting to retail stores rather than seek prescriptions for their medical marijuana products.

“The market might take care of itself,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

The city aims to strike a balance between controlling recreational production and retail sales for tax collection purposes, and providing easy access for patients who seek treatment for a host of medical issues. The city also wants to avoid clusters of retail stores in “green districts.”

The need for marijuana rules comes after voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana with the passage of Initiative 502 last fall. The 25 percent tax on marijuana sales will be split between the state’s general fund and educational spending. The city will receive its standard portion of the sales and B&O taxes associated with the emerging industry that is projected to support some 300 to 400 local jobs. Even with the state tax on marijuana in licensed retail stores, prices are expected to be about $10 to $12 a gram. That is roughly the street price on the illegal market, without the quality and production oversights.

Business licenses will be accepted in November and will likely be issued after the first of the year after state and local reviews of the applications.