Rather than a new city law, the basic economics of supply and demand could get the biggest role in determining how many retail marijuana shops can do business in Tacoma.
A proposal heading to the City Council this month takes a hands-off approach to a couple of questions that vexed city leaders for the past year.
It urges the council not to place new caps on the number of pot stores in town and recommends avoiding proximity restrictions, meaning concentrations of marijuana stores on Sixth Avenue and downtown could remain as they are.
“I just think the market will regulate itself,” said Chris Beale, who was part of the 8-1 majority on the Tacoma Planning Commission this month supporting a liberal recommendation on marijuana regulations to the council.
The council could choose a different course when it considers the recommendations April 26. Four months ago, the council passed a temporary moratorium on new marijuana stores because of concerns about the density of shops in some neighborhoods and their overall number across the city.
The big Planning Commission majority that passed the proposal was somewhat of a reversal from the group’s direction a month earlier, when it appeared to be leaning toward adopting a local cap on new stores.
The city wants to get the new ordinance in place before July 1, when the state is expected to begin enforcing a law that would cull gray-market medical marijuana stores operating outside the boundaries of state law.
That process should slim down the 60-some medical marijuana stores that did business in Tacoma last year. Tacoma has nine state-sanctioned stores. Seven more stores are expected to receive state permits, giving the city a total of 16 shops.
The gray-market medical marijuana shops “sprouted up all over the place and they continue to come and go. We owe it to the people in the city that everyone should be playing by the same set of rules,” said Planning Commissioner Steve Wamback, who supported the proposal.
City Planning Division Manager Brian Boudet said the state limit of 16 permits for Tacoma could be changed by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
By declining to add an additional local limit, the Planning Commission recommendation indicates that the city would not oppose a move by the state to increase the number of permits allotted to Tacoma businesses.
Beale and Wamback said additional permits might be beneficial to Tacoma because neighboring cities and Pierce County have adopted bans on recreational marijuana stores. They said that trend might draw customers to Tacoma and boost city tax revenue.
“If it is a legal product and it’s legal to set up shop, then let’s not close those doors,” Wamback said.
Although the commission adopted its recommendation with a large majority, several of its key points passed by close margins of 5-4 and 6-3 leading up to the main vote.
Aside from omitting a cap on stores, the other sticking points in the recommendation were:
▪ Allowing up to four medical marijuana patients or providers to grow cannabis in cooperatives. Under the proposal, they would not be allowed to cultivate marijuana within 100 feet of elementary schools, arcades, parks and other locations that attract children.
▪ Declining to pass a dispersion requirement, which would have prohibited marijuana stores from opening close to each other. Beale and Wamback said existing zoning rules limiting where the shops can operate should be sufficient.