Almost a year and a half after Washington voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana, officials in Puyallup might stretch out the clock even longer in their city.
The Puyallup City Council on Tuesday will consider a six-month extension on a moratorium on the production and distribution of pot and the sale of small amounts to those 21 and older. The moratorium was first enacted in August, then extended for six months in October. It was set to expire at the end of March.
Under the new proposal, Puyallup leaders would have until the end of September to decide what to do next.
If the council adopts it, Pierce County’s third-largest city would fall behind the state’s timeline for implementing Initiative 502. The state is starting to issue licenses now, and retail stores are supposed to open by this summer.
But state legislators left many details up in the air in their just-concluded session. That, and the state attorney general’s finding in January that local governments can ban marijuana operations if they choose, led Puyallup staff to advise extending the city’s timeout “to allow further research, analysis, and deliberation.”
Meanwhile, Puyallup residents will have a chance Tuesday to weigh in on how they think the state law should be implemented in their city. A public hearing is scheduled during the regular City Council meeting.
Other local governments have approached marijuana legalization with mixed feelings.
Sumner, Lakewood and University Place have de facto bans or moratoriums on pot sales for as long as the federal government deems marijuana an illegal drug. The same holds true with the Pierce County Council.
But cities such as Tacoma, Gig Harbor and Edgewood have changed city code to allow marijuana sales in limited zones, and Puyallup’s planning commission recommends the city follow their lead.
In a meeting Jan. 29, the planning commission voted unanimously to allow marijuana producers, processors and retailers in some areas of the city. A public hearing was held before the vote, and no residents spoke.
If the council ultimately approves the planning commission recommendation, marijuana retailers would be allowed only in commercial zones while producers and processors would be allowed in industrial/manufacturing and agricultural zones.
Additionally, no pot operations would be allowed near businesses or services aimed at minors.
According to the proposal, marijuana operations “may not be located within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged 21 years or older.”
Also, none could be located on a parcel that “immediately abuts a parcel that is zoned residential.”
During the planning commission meeting in January, Deputy City Attorney Steve Kirkelie stressed that very few pot businesses would be permitted in Puyallup city limits. Only two of the 31 licenses issued countywide would be in Puyallup.
Dozens of applicants with Puyallup addresses have filed with the state for a shot at those two licenses.
“This is uncharted territory here in Washington,” Kirkelie said at the meeting.
Steve Hastings, commission chairman, said his primary concern was that the list of youth-oriented businesses might not go far enough. He used the example of a tutoring center in a strip mall where a pot store would be allowed.
Vice chairman Chris McNutt cautioned against creating an endless loop of what-ifs.
“I wouldn’t be in favor of extending that list,” McNutt said. “It’s already been established, and you could go forever.”
Hastings also noted that allowing marijuana businesses in high-visibility parts of Puyallup could harm the reputation of surrounding businesses and the city itself.
Kirkelie said the city could use detailed code language to rein in the location of pot businesses, as other cities have done with strip clubs.