Pierce County due to make decision about pot business

Staff writerNovember 5, 2013 

The Pierce County Council is expected to decide Tuesday whether to ban recreational marijuana businesses, choose a less restrictive course or put off a decision for another five months.

A decision, however, assumes council members can agree on one option. They’re currently divided over four different proposals.

The latest idea comes from council member Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, who wants to extend the county’s temporary ban on growing, processing and selling marijuana until late May.

Extending the moratorium would allow time for the Legislature to decide whether to enact recommendations from state agencies such as requiring medical marijuana to be sold at licensed retail outlets.

“What we don’t know yet is if that’s what the Legislature is going to do,” Richardson said. “The problem we have now is an explosion of basically illegal medical marijuana shops around the county.”

In July, the council approved a temporary ban and set up a committee to recommend zoning rules. Richardson’s proposal would re-establish that committee to recommend options.

But Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, wants to move forward with an outright ban on retail sales and other marijuana operations. She and council member Jim McCune, R-Graham, sponsored the proposed ban.

McDonald said Monday she’s not sure her ban will get the required four votes to pass.

Richardson’s proposal — because it’s an emergency ordinance — must receive five of seven council votes to pass. He’s also not certain his proposal has enough support to pass.

Two other proposals are before the council in response to last November’s voter-approved Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Council members Connie Ladenburg and Rick Talbert, both Tacoma Democrats, propose regulating zones in the county where recreational marijuana operations would be legal.

Talbert said the council needs to put restrictions in place to control marijuana businesses. “I worry that if we don’t act, people will get licenses and open up shop,” he said.

Another option sponsored by council members Stan Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, and Richardson favors zoning but adds the requirement of federal approval for a license to produce, process or sell marijuana.

Randy Simmons, deputy director of the state Liquor Control Board, said Monday he doesn’t expect the federal government to play a role in licensing.

“I don’t think the federal government is going to get involved one way or another,” Simmons said. “They’d have no oversight on what goes on with a business in a state or a county or a city. They don’t do zoning.”

Even if the County Council passes a ban or extends the moratorium, the Liquor Control Board will start issuing licenses for marijuana businesses sometime in March, Simmons said.

“There is nothing in I-502 that allows for a ban,” he said.

Cities as well as the county are in the midst of dealing with regulation of recreational marijuana businesses.

University Place attorney Steve Victor asked the City Council on Monday night to extend its moratorium on the production, processing and retail sale of recreational marijuana for another six months, which the council did unanimously. Victor requested the extension to give his office time to formalize a position on whether UP would change zoning to allow for recreational marijuana businesses or prohibit them because they’re illegal under federal law.

Meanwhile, Tacoma City Council members could approve two ordinances related to recreational marijuana when they meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The first ordinance outlines where recreational marijuana businesses can operate. The definitions mostly follow the state’s 1,000-foot buffer around playgrounds, schools and other child-centered businesses. The city’s proposed code adds jails, courthouses and detox centers to the list.

A second ordinance modifies the nuisance code to restrict the visibility and odor of marijuana plants.

The state is planning to license no more than 31 marijuana stores in Pierce County, with as many as eight in Tacoma, one in University Place, and 17 in unincorporated areas and cities and towns with no specific allocation.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
Staff writers Brynn Grimley and Kate Martin contributed to this report.

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