Tacoma’s new path to medical cannabis regulation will go through the city’s nuisance – not zoning – code, but City Council members nonetheless maintain the measure is aimed at tolerance.
“We’re really trying to provide safe access that’s compliant to the law,” Councilman Marty Campbell said Tuesday.
A week after scrapping a measure nine months in the works that essentially called for making medical pot businesses legal in Tacoma, city officials introduced a new plan Tuesday that instead would install rules for enforcing medical marijuana grow operations as public nuisances.
The city’s latest plan would modify the nuisance code to declare so-called collective gardens a public nuisance if they’re near several defined sensitive areas. Gardens within 1,000 feet of a school, church, day care or drug rehab or youth center, for instance, “could be found to be a nuisance” under the proposal, City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said.
The measure also could pin a “nuisance” label – and subject enforcement – on any collective garden operating within 20 designated city zoning areas, and on “any place bearing a sign or placard advertising marijuana for sale or delivery.”
As drafted now, the measure is not a legal ban; it also does not deny qualified patients as defined under the state’s medical cannabis law access to marijuana, Pauli said. Individual cannabis patients who grow personal gardens at home also wouldn’t be affected, she added.
Before the new plan was detailed, more than a dozen medical pot patients, business owners and other proponents spoke out against what they fear will be heavy-handed city tactics that will drive legitimate treatment methods back to the black market.
“I’m not a hippy or a criminal running around doing criminal activity,” said Michael Littlewood, 37, who said he buys cannabis in Tacoma to treat his wife’s chronic pain. “So don’t force me to be a criminal.”
Several citizens complained the council had an opportunity to pass a model law for the state, but instead wilted amid legal fears.
“Where did our brave Tacoma City Council go?” asked Cat Jeter, owner of the Pacific Northwest Hemp Co., a medical marijuana dispensary.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland later responded: “There’s a difference between being brave and irresponsible. There’s a balance in trying to do something the right way.”
For two years, the city has dealt with an explosion of medical cannabis dispensaries. Council members sought to strike a balance that would grant legitimate patients access while protecting neighborhoods and business districts from potential effects.
During the span, the city has raided one dispensary, pursued license revocations, sought legislative clarity, enacted a dispensary moratorium and seated a task force to examine the issue.
But amid contradictory laws, the matter proved tricky to resolve. The council last week dropped a zoning and land-use proposal based on the task force’s recommendations that largely called to authorize cannabis gardens and dispensaries in the city.
The decision came after Pauli advised the council that the measure overstepped federal marijuana prohibitions and could expose city employees to legal risk. City officials also noted the state’s medical cannabis law provides a regulatory framework for collective gardens, but not for dispensaries, making it difficult to regulate such distribution centers from whole cloth.
The council pursued the nuisance-code amendment as a compromise that, while largely steering clear of the unresolved dispensary questions, still could provide guidance for dealing with collective gardens.
“We’re trying to enable collective gardens,” Councilman Ryan Mello said.
City officials also are planning an enforcement strategy that will incorporate elements of a ballot measure approved by voters last year that made cannabis-related offenses the city’s lowest enforcement priority, Pauli said.
Council members say they’ll likely tinker with the new proposal before voting on a version of it next week.