Tacoma City Council weighing pot regulation options

Staff writerAugust 6, 2013 

The Tacoma City Council may take a cautiously welcoming approach to the state’s new legal marijuana industry.

As many local governments outside Seattle pass temporary bans on pot businesses, Tacoma city staff is recommending the council adopt zoning rules that would recognize marijuana production, processing and retail as allowed uses.

The state Liquor Control Board is creating rules for businesses in each of those categories. The board expects to start taking applications next month and award licenses Dec. 1.

A city staff presentation Tuesday called for interim rules that open commercial and mixed-use zones around Tacoma to retail stores, but not to grow operations or processors. All three kinds of businesses would be allowed in intensive industrial zones, concentrated in the Tideflats and the South Tacoma Way corridor.

Even within those areas, a huge portion — including all or nearly all of downtown — would be off limits because of the buffer zones set up by Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana. That voter-approved law requires pot businesses to keep at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks, libraries, child-care centers, transit centers and game arcades.

And staff said the council could consider other areas to buffer, such as public open space, religious facilities, residential zones, rehab centers, jails, courts, historic districts and other marijuana businesses.

“Looking at the map, it’s startling to look at what the options are for retailers,” said Councilwoman Lauren Walker, noting all the areas that are off limits. “It begs the question of the concentration in certain areas, and the impact on those areas.”

Walker agreed with staff that there needs to be a place in the city for growers, processors and retail sellers.

The liquor board plans to cap the number of retail stores in counties and cities. Mayor Marilyn Strickland suggested the city might impose a cap on the number of growers and processors if it can.

Tuesday’s presentation by city Planning Division Manager Brian Boudet and City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli suggested creating a specific category for each of the three levels, plus a category called urban horticulture that would allow indoor growing operations in intensive industrial districts.

The liquor board is moving toward allowing both indoor and outdoor growing. Boudet said growing outdoors within city limits would be theoretically possible but unlikely under the recommendations.

The next step is a review by the city Planning Commission, which would make a recommendation Aug. 21 and send it to the council, whose final vote could come Sept. 21 — a week after the liquor board starts taking applications. The city’s interim rules would stay in effect until March 2014.

On a separate track, the council could also consider in the next few weeks some marijuana-related changes to the city’s nuisance and public-safety rules.

A decision on how to license pot businesses would wait until later.

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