Currently, there are no legally permitted marijuana businesses in unincorporated Pierce County. Not one.
A majority of the County Council adopted an ordinance on Dec. 15 that authorized the controlled retail sale of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes in three urban commercial zones in the unincorporated area and one rural commercial area on the Key Peninsula. Under state law, any sales by those establishments could only be made to people 21 years and older.
The ordinance also included an advisory ballot provision so voters in the unincorporated county could weigh in, which they are doing in the April 26 special election. The Washington attorney general earlier issued an opinion that local governments, through their land-use powers, could establish zoning regulations for these businesses, including prohibition. Several cities in Pierce County did exactly that. So it seemed completely appropriate to the council majority for voters in the unincorporated county to advise their elected officials on this matter.
Unfortunately, there continues to be significant mischaracterization of the legislation the council adopted, including the statement against Advisory Vote Number 1 in the voter’s pamphlet.
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First, the adopted rules would specifically prohibit medical and retail stores from locating in both urban and rural residential neighborhoods in unincorporated Pierce County. Marijuana sales are prohibited in single-family residential neighborhoods; where they are permitted, in limited commercial zones, any retail store is required to be at least 1,000 feet from areas where children congregate. That includes schools, parks, libraries, child-care centers, transit centers and churches, as examples.
The ordinance provides a limited area where medical and recreational marijuana could be legally sold after July 1. It also provides clear standards that will allow the county to shut down the nearly 80 unregulated, illegal “green cross” dispensaries that have proliferated throughout the county.
To further ensure children are protected, the council established a special fund in the 2016 budget for use by law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office to identify, arrest and prosecute illegal drug operators.
Voters should visit the Pierce County auditor’s web page and review Ordinance 2015-27s in order to make an informed decision on Advisory Vote Number 1. Make your voices heard by voting in this important election in unincorporated Pierce County.
Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, is chairman of the Pierce County Council.