Marijuana

New Pierce County marijuana ban too little, too late?

A proposal by Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald would essentially undo the council’s December decision to lift the county’s 2013 de facto ban on marijuana businesses effective July 1.
A proposal by Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald would essentially undo the council’s December decision to lift the county’s 2013 de facto ban on marijuana businesses effective July 1. The Associated Press

Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald has proposed a new ban on state-licensed pot operations in unincorporated Pierce County, but she might be too late to stop some marijuana businesses from opening legally.

Her proposal, if adopted, would essentially undo the council’s December decision to lift the county’s 2013 de facto ban on marijuana businesses effective July 1.

The council scheduled the ban’s lifting the same day it called for an April advisory ballot measure to ask voters whether they wanted to permit regulated marijuana sales and production in the unincorporated areas.

McDonald, a Puyallup Republican and longtime marijuana opponent, says the election’s results — 52 percent of voters in unincorporated Pierce County said no to pot businesses — is a call for the council to restore the ban.

The council’s rules and operations committee will hear her proposal at its 10 a.m. meeting Monday. A day later, the council’s regular meeting agenda calls for final action on the ordinance.

But even if the majority approves the measure Tuesday, it could take up to three weeks before it goes into effect.

That’s because Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has up to 10 working days to decide how to act on the ordinance. She can either sign it, not sign it or veto it. Only if she signs it immediately could the proposal become law fast enough to prevent pot businesses from opening legally.

If McCarthy waits several days, McDonald’s ordinance would not become binding until after the county’s current de facto ban is lifted July 1. That leaves a narrow window for state licensed recreational business owners to be granted the permit needed to operate legally under the new law.

If she vetoes it, the council would need five votes to override her action, and that level of support appears unlikely.

Five marijuana business owners have already applied to Pierce County for a conditional use permit. The county hearing examiner is expected to review their applications the first week of July, after the ban is lifted.

The hearing examiner can only consider the code in place at the time of review. That means businesses that meet the county’s requirements could be granted a permit to open. If a ban becomes effective at a later date, they would be allowed to stay open.

McDonald’s ordinance also could be slowed by the council.

Under our rules of procedure that sort of land use action would need to be referred to the planning commission.

Doug Richardson, Pierce County Council Chairman

Council Chairman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, is questioning whether the proposal should first go to the county planning commission.

“Under our rules of procedure that sort of land use action would need to be referred to the planning commission,” Richardson said.

He will ask that question Monday at the rules and operations committee meeting, which he oversees.

The council has the authority to take action without planning commission review, but that would stray from past practice.

If the ordinance is sent to the planning commission, it is unlikely to come back to the council before July 1.

McDonald’s ban on marijuana businesses would be more absolute than the one the county previously had. Instead of stipulating that businesses can open if they can show pot has been removed from the federal list of banned substances, McDonald’s proposal would bar outright marijuana businesses in the unincorporated area.

McDonald did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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