Cities taking different tacks on how to regulate pot

ARLINGTON — The City Council last week passed an ordinance that allows recreational marijuana businesses to operate in the city.

With the decision, Arlington becomes the latest city to join the list of communities that are enacting legislation consistent with Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana production, processing and retailing in Washington state. Arlington’s new law takes effect Tuesday.

The state Liquor Control Board currently is reviewing applications for licenses to produce, process or sell marijuana. Cities across the state are consequently drafting local laws that will govern where and how those businesses may operate.

On Monday, the Lake Stevens City Council is expected to take up its own ordinance, holding a public hearing and possibly taking action.

Arlington’s ordinance adds a few additional regulations on top of the already tight rules the state set. Most significantly, production or processing businesses will only be able to set up in the industrial zones of the city, while a retail operation can only open in commercial zones.

The new city ordinance, when coupled with state-mandated 1,000-foot buffers around schools, libraries, community centers and the like, limits drastically where marijuana businesses can operate.

“Those really took quite a bit of Arlington out of it,” Mayor Barbara Tolbert said.

Producers and processors are limited to the industrial area in the south part of the city near the airport. The city’s law also limits the size of marijuana production facilities to 10,000 square feet.

State law dictates that Arlington will have a maximum of one marijuana retailer within the city limits. That store, if and when it opens, will be limited to commercial property in the Island Crossing area near I-5.

Lake Stevens’ draft ordinance is similar to Arlington’s in how it sets zoning rules and caps square footage. Again, because of the mandatory 1,000-foot buffers around buildings that children are likely to frequent, production and processing would be limited to the northeast industrial area of the city along Machias Road, while the city’s lone retail establishment could operate only in the commercial Frontier Village area.

Jurisdictions differ in how they are regulating marijuana-based businesses. Snohomish County enacted regulations last year that are relatively permissive within the state guidelines.

Others take a stricter approach. Pierce County, for example, has banned all marijuana businesses.

Just how much leeway the cities will ultimately have is unknown. In January, Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion that said cities were free to bar marijuana facilities or enact rules so strict so as to make them impossible to operate.

At the same time, the state House of Representatives is considering a bill that would prevent cities and other jurisdictions from doing just that. It balances that enforcement stick with a carrot that allows local jurisdictions to share in the excise taxes collected on marijuana business transactions.

In the meantime, the Liquor Control Board has been processing hundreds of license applications from across the state. The first licenses will start being granted in March, spokesman Brian Smith said.

Adding to the uncertainty is the tricky balancing act many cities are doing in upholding the intent of I-502 while maintaining the character of their communities, which are populated by people who have both pro- and anti-legalization opinions.

Arlington Councilman Dick Butner, a retired police officer, was the sole member to vote against the new ordinance.

He raised concerns that today’s marijuana is much stronger than the variety used in the 1970s, when he was patrolling the streets, and that there should be more concern about the drug’s potency and its effects on society.

No matter the potency of today’s pot, he still would have voted “no,” he said.

“To me it’s still a gateway drug,” Butner said.

A look at cities’ decisions

While Initiative 502 legalized marijuana-related businesses and set up a regulatory environment, how local jurisdictions choose to implement those regulations varies from place to place.

In Snohomish County, some cities already have laws on the books, while others are still developing ordinances or waiting until an uncertain legal environment becomes clearer.

There is no limit on the number of production or processing operations that can operate in the state, but the number of marijuana retail businesses that may operate is limited by jurisdiction and based on city size.

Arlington: Passed ordinance Feb. 3, which takes effect Feb. 11. Allowed one future retail location.

Bothell: Has no ordinance and no moratorium. One retail location.

Edmonds: Passed three-month moratorium Feb. 4 to study the issues. Two retailers.

Everett: Enacted interim legislation October 2013. Production facilities currently limited to 2,000 square feet. Five retailers.

Granite Falls: Moratorium in place. No retailers permitted.

Lake Stevens: Considering ordinance Feb. 10. One retailer.

Lynnwood: Operating under a moratorium. One retailer.

Marysville: Moratorium in place. Three retailers.

Mill Creek: Moratorium in place. One retailer.

Monroe: Moratorium in place. One retailer.

Mountlake Terrace: Passed ordinance in November 2013. One retailer.

Mukilteo: Passed ordinance in October 2013. One retailer.

Snohomish: Moratorium in place. No retailers permitted.

Stanwood: Moratorium in place. No retailers permitted.

Snohomish County: Passed ordinance in November 2013. A maximum of 16 retailers will be permitted in unincorporated areas of the county.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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