The Gig Harbor City Council passed a marijuana zoning ordinance last week in response to Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure last year that legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults.
Gig Harbor is required by state law to accommodate possible locations for marijuana gardens and grow shops, but the city can restrict where the shops can go.
“There’s a 1,000-foot rule,” Gig Harbor City Council member Derek Young said. “You can’t have it within 1,000 feet of schools, arcades or anywhere children will congregate.”
In addition, the rule will include public parks, childcare centers, recreation centers, public transit centers, playgrounds and libraries.
With those restrictions, there weren’t many areas left for the council to consider. The council eliminated the downtown area from consideration.
Ultimately, with a recommendation from the planning commission, the council decided on the Employment District along Bujacich Drive, the Commercial District (C-1) and General Business (B-2) zoning districts.
Reid Ekberg, a planning commission member, said the approved zones were the only places that would work.
“There was a lot of discussion,” Ekberg said. “I don’t think anyone felt they were the best. They were selected because they had some space that would still work with the buffers. They were almost kind of the only ones where it could potentially even fit.”
Young said the council wanted to keep the stores away from residential areas.
“It’s the ones that are non-residential in character,” Young said. “We don’t want them there.”
If someone decides to open a marijuana shop in Gig Harbor — and that’s not a guarantee — Young said he thinks the impact would be minimal, since it would be heavily regulated by the state Liquor Control Board.
“My assumption is it will be kind of like the liquor store,” Young said. “There are far fewer problems than with private enterprises. In grocery stores, (liquor) theft is rampant. The idea is, I’m sure there are some impacts, but because they’re standalone stores, it won’t be a huge issue.”
According to state law, there is no built-in option for cities to just say no and ban marijuana shops from opening within city limits. Some have disagreed with that interpretation and declared an outright ban.
“There was a consideration of an outright ban,” Ekberg said. “There was extensive discussion with collective gardens, and the retail component as well. There was a discussion of excluding it, but ultimately we wanted to regulate it and identify spots where it would work.”
Young said the city council is simply trying to accommodate the law.
“This is not an effort from the council to attract marijuana shops,” Young said. “We’re just complying with state laws.”
Pierce County will put a cap on the number of marijuana shops that can open, so even if Gig Harbor gets one, Young said it likely will be the only one.
If a shop does open in Gig Harbor, the city could reap tax benefits, although the financial implications would be small. Young said there is currently no framework for profit sharing between the state and cities.
“That’s something that the Association of Washington Cities are working on, and demanding, in fact,” Young said. “We’re going to be the ones that police this, not the state troopers. We need to get revenue for it so we can handle that.”
The state Liquor Control Board will begin to accept license applications in November and is expected to begin issuing licenses in December or January, at the earliest.Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at jon.manley@ gateline.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.