The city of Tacoma will mail letters Friday to more than 60 medical marijuana store owners telling them to close their doors within 45 days.
“We don’t need 60 stores selling marijuana in Tacoma,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday. “At a minimum, 48 of these stores do need to close down permanently.”
The City Council told staff Tuesday to move forward with sending the letters. The move comes six months after the council decided to delay enforcement action to see if state lawmakers would act to regulate medical marijuana shops.
The Legislature did act, charging the Liquor Control Board with deciding which medical marijuana shops and grow operations to legitimize and which ones must close by July 1, 2016.
The agency, which has been renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board, will offer licenses to businesses that meet certain requirements. The city will use those criteria as a guide to decide which medical shops it allows to remain open after council members expressed concerns that closing all shops would eliminate the medical marijuana supply for patients with a true need.
Stores that had locations before Jan. 1, 2013, that have maintained a business license since July 2014, and have a history of paying state taxes and fees could remain open at least until the state makes its licensing decisions. The city will ask for that information in the letter they will send to the businesses Friday.
City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said of the shops the city knows about, 19 have filed for a state business license and paid some taxes, and 10 businesses have been in operation since before 2013.
After 45 days have passed, the city will hand-deliver a notice ordering the business to immediately suspend operations. An owner then has three days to appeal the closure, during which the store cannot be open.
Strickland also wants to consider whether each shop has a unionized workforce. The United Food and Commercial Workers union has organized a few shops in Tacoma.
“They have a code of conduct,” she said of UFCW. If UFCW stores have priority in the new system, “That would help ease people’s minds about legitimacy.”
Louis Archuleta, who owns The Herbal Garden, a medical establishment on South 28th Street, said his employees aren’t unionized but he’s confident his store meets the other requirements. He first opened his doors a few years ago on Pacific Avenue, after which he said the city told him to move because he was too close to a park.
Since then, he said he been frustrated by the lack of guidance the city gives him on how to operate a legitimate business. He also adopts some of his own rules to stay on what he hopes will eventually be the right side of the law. He said he pays taxes.
“We followed what little rules they gave us,” Archuleta said. “The state’s not even enforcing the regulations they do have, and when you try to get a straight answer, you can’t get a straight answer about anything.”
Such rules include not allowing patients to consume marijuana at the store, or requiring customers to have so-called green cards, the authorization patients are supposed to get from doctors allowing them to buy medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, other stores have opened next to churches and schools, he said, and they’ve lost sight of what medical marijuana means.
“It was a big party for most people; it wasn’t about the patients,” Archuleta said. “They were out there slinging drugs.”
Archuleta said he hopes that a city blessing doesn’t hinge on having employees belong to a union. “I think that should be up to the business and the employees. It shouldn’t be forced on me. I’m not real hip with the union.”
Tacoma has been handling noise, smell and other complaints about medical marijuana businesses through its code enforcement department.
Many council members said they are uncomfortable with the direction of the medical pot industry, among them Councilman Marty Campbell. Some medical store owners are converting homes that historically were never businesses into commercial pot shops.
Strickland said the shops have long known the city wanted to close at least some of them down. In December, the council told staff to proceed with cease-and-desist letters, a decision met with protest from shop owners and patients and later put on hold by the council.
“Getting letters should not come as a surprise to anyone,” she said.