Pierce County working on its own pot rules

Staff writerMay 15, 2013 

As the state prepares for today’s release of draft rules to control the marijuana market, Pierce County is slowly developing its own plans to zone where pot can be legally grown, processed and sold.

A proposed ordinance would prohibit those activities in all unincorporated parts of the county until two steps take place: The state issues permanent licensing rules, and the County Council adopts permanent zoning regulations.

“We’re just taking kind of a pause,” said Susan Long, attorney for the council.

Unless the county takes action, the ordinance says, marijuana-related uses “may be able to locate in the county without regulation and thereby have adverse impacts on the county and its citizens.”

Like some of their counterparts around Washington, county officials are taking steps to respond to statewide Initiative 502. Voters approved that measure in November to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for those 21 or older.

Under the initiative, the state Liquor Control Board will set up a system to license the production, sale and processing of recreational marijuana. Those rules are expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

The county’s ordinance does not address collective gardens for medical marijuana. No permits have been issued for them in unincorporated Pierce County.

The ordinance notes that producing, processing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Long said Pierce County has some authority to determine where marijuana uses are legal and appropriate.

The county can decide it doesn’t want certain marijuana uses in certain zones, Long said. She compared that step to containing industrial companies to industrial zones.

What’s not clear is whether local governments could prohibit all marijuana uses in all zones, or contain uses to a small area such as a single block.

“That’s an unanswered question right now,” Long said. “The initiative doesn’t address that one way or another.”

She said the council wants to study the range of alternatives.

I-502 sets some rules for zoning. Growers, processors and retailers will not be allowed within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, libraries, recreation centers, day care centers or bus stations.

The county has identified those areas locally. So has the city of Tacoma; it has completed a tentative map showing recreational marijuana operations would be prohibited by the 1,000-foot limits in most of the city, except for the Tideflats and various pockets elsewhere.

Pierce County’s ordinance will be considered by the County Council’s public safety and human services committee June 18. The full council is scheduled to take action July 2.

If approved, the interim regulations would be in effect for six months.

Other South Sound governments are also taking time to figure out what to do about marijuana. The University Place City Council this month adopted a six-month moratorium on marijuana cultivation and related activities. The Olympia City Council this month approved a one-year moratorium. Olympia City Manager Steve Hall said the city needed a “timeout” to “give us time to assess what’s happening.”

Council member Doug Richardson, a member of the public safety committee and a sponsor of the proposed ordinance, said the county needs to start planning for long-term zoning.

The ordinance would set up a working group to develop permanent zoning regulations. That committee will have representatives of the county executive, sheriff, prosecuting attorney, council, and planning and land services.

“That committee will be a good sounding board for how restrictive we ought to be,” said Richardson, R-Lakewood.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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