Tacoma’s City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to empanel a “Medical Cannabis Task Force” to help form regulations for pot dispensaries in the city.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland will appoint the panel’s members and designate its chairperson. She plans to announce the appointments Thursday.
“There was no problem recruiting volunteers for this (committee),” Strickland said.
Among its 11 members, the task force must include a medical cannabis dispensary or collective garden operator; a doctor or medical professional; a patient with a chronic illness; a neighborhoods representative; a community member or small business owner; a former law enforcement employee; a private individual with legal experience; and representatives of an anti-drug agency, a nonprofit that provides care for patients with chronic illnesses, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and the business community.
“Really, the purpose of this task force is to provide diverse opinion,” said Victoria Woodards, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee.
Creation of the panel comes three weeks after the council approved an emergency six-month moratorium on new and existing medical cannabis dispensaries and community gardens in the city. The temporary ban seeks to allow the city time “to develop and adopt appropriate zoning, business licensing, health and safety, or tax requirements for the production processing, dispensing and delivery of medical cannabis.”
Officials said then that the city won’t take new enforcement action against existing businesses, but the ban was needed to prevent medical cannabis shops from multiplying further while rules are set up.
Once seated, the new committee is expected by Oct. 15 to provide “balanced feedback and recommendations to the city manager to assist city staff in developing recommendations to the City Council regarding business licensing, health and safety and tax requirements,” according to the council’s resolution authorizing the task force.
The panel will also have authority to conduct public outreach upon request of the public safety committee, and will provide “advice and feedback” to the city’s planning commission in development of a “Medical Cannabis Policy Development” land use plan to be forwarded to the council Dec. 29.
“It doesn’t mean this committee will have ultimate say,” said Woodards, noting the public will have multiple opportunities to provide feedback during the process. “You still will have input.”
Since last year, city officials have been grappling with how to deal with an explosion of medical pot dispensaries in Tacoma. In hopes this year’s Legislature would clarify Washington’s 1999 medical-marijuana law, the city postponed appeals hearings for 30 dispensaries. Those cases remain pending. All face losing city business licenses after city police and licensing officials cracked down on medical pot providers last year.
State lawmakers ultimately did pass a measure this year calling for state-licensed dispensaries, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of the bill. Instead, the new law that took effect July 22 leaves dispensary regulation up to local jurisdictions.
The new task force’s term can be extended through Aug. 1, 2012, if necessary.
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542