Marijuana entrepreneurs could have a hard time operating in unincorporated Pierce County under two alternatives being considered by the County Council.
One alternative would require federal approval to license a marijuana business; the other would prohibit marijuana operations altogether.
A third option would allow marijuana processing, production and retail sales to move forward in the appropriate zones.
After nearly three hours of debate Monday, council members remain divided over how to regulate marijuana businesses in response to last November’s voter-approved Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Council members defended their three options as either upholding state law, federal law or both.
Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, argued for an outright ban.
“It’s incredulous to me that those who promote upholding the law of Initiative 502 have no problem breaking the current law of the land,” McDonald said. “We should not be thumbing our nose at the law of the land.”
In late August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado he would not sue to stop their new marijuana laws, at least for now.
But McDonald notes that the Department of Justice has reserved the right to challenge the state laws at a later time.
Council member Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, said the council needs to move forward regulating zones in the county where marijuana processing, production and retail sales would be legal because of I-502.
“What we have in place is a law,” Ladenburg said. “And what we need to do as a council is to make sure that law is being implemented effectively with the least amount of harm to our community, especially to our children.”
Council member Stan Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, favored zoning but added the requirement of federal approval for a license to produce, process or sell marijuana.
Council member Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, said mandating federal approval amounted to a ban. He cautioned that Pierce County would have to pay the costs of a legal challenge.
Flemming disagreed and said the hybrid option is not a ban but takes into account both state and federal law.
Council member and committee chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, supports either of the two more restrictive options. He said he supports a total ban in principle, but he likes having the hybrid option as a backup so that the zones would be ready to go in case a ban or requirement of federal approval was successfully challenged.
Keith Henson, a marijuana reform proponent, said most of the council members — by supporting a ban or federal approval — were going against the will of the public.
The council’s consideration of a ban marked “a sad day” for voters who approved I-502, said Henson, director of the Pierce County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“By defying the state law, you are opening yourself up to litigation,” Henson said. “We want the law enacted.”
The council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee forwarded the three options Monday to the full council without any recommendation. The final County Council hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.
In Tacoma, the city is considering its own zoning regulations for recreational marijuana shops, growers and processors but not an outright ban. The City Council will have a public hearing on the issue at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Local jurisdictions are under time pressure to decide whether or how to zone marijuana-licensed businesses. The state Liquor Control Board is scheduled to begin accepting applications Nov. 18 and begin issuing licenses in late February or March.
The state is planning to license no more than 31 marijuana stores in Pierce County to open by June 1. As many as eight of those would be in Tacoma, two each in Lakewood and Puyallup, and one each in Bonney Lake and University Place.
As many as 17 could be located in unincorporated Pierce County and other cities and towns that were given no specific license allocation. The unincorporated county has 378,495 residents.
An unlimited number of growers and processors of pot can qualify for those licenses to be handed out in March.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647