The Tacoma City Council is pondering a pause on new pot shops as the state moves to approve more retail marijuana licenses.
The city proposal: A six-month moratorium on new stores until the city can consider changes to its codes that regulate marijuana businesses. The council’s first hearing on the moratorium is scheduled for Tuesday.
Existing licensed stores would not have to close because of the moratorium, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday.
“We want to make sure we have the rules straight so we can get the number of stores that we think work best for Tacoma,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.
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The city’s code is silent on how many retail marijuana stores Tacoma allows, although the state targeted the city for eight retail licenses after voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Now the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is considering a new wave of licenses that could double the number of Tacoma marijuana stores.
Liquor board director Rick Garza said Tacoma could see another eight licensed stores as the agency selects established and well-behaved medical stores from a pool of applicants that have so far eluded official regulation.
The latest round of licenses is spurred by the Legislature’s move last year to bring medical marijuana shops under the regulatory framework built for recreational marijuana. In working to merge the two markets, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board has raised the statewide cap on marijuana retail licenses from 334 to 556.
It distributed those extra 222 slots to areas without bans on pot businesses.
Despite a pending moratorium, Garza said the agency plans to issue Tacoma’s full allotment of retail marijuana licenses.
“Those applications we’ve received, we will process those,” Garza said. “They (the businesses) will need to comply with the local jurisdictions’ (zoning laws).”
The city’s moratorium is intended to allow the city Planning Commission time to suggest changes to the city’s land use and nuisance laws. Tacoma’s current rules were written with the assumption that the city would have only eight stores and might need to be adjusted now that more are coming, city officials say.
“There’s been concern about aggregating marijuana stores and creating a pot district,” Planning Commission chairman Chris Beale said. “But at the same time, we tolerate bar districts.”
While the moratorium is in effect, the commission could discuss limiting the number of retail pot shops in the city, prohibiting a new store from locating within a certain distance of an existing store, and whether to allow home-based group grows, or marijuana cooperatives, in the city, Planning Division Manager Brian Boudet said.
Beale said he doesn’t expect sweeping changes in city zoning.
Still, a moratorium could pose problems for pot shops trying to make the transition from unregulated medical dispensaries to licensed marijuana stores. Jay Berneburg, a Tacoma attorney who represents marijuana businesses, said at least one owner who expects to get a license from the liquor board is already making investments based on the city's current zoning.
"Someone's buying a building on Sixth Avenue for $600,000 based on the city saying he's allowed to build," he said. If the council adopts rules that require pot shops to locate a certain distance from another marijuana business, that could quash that business owner's plan, Berneburg said.