Gig Harbor not only town with questions on pot

February 19, 2014 

When the Gig Harbor City Council meets Monday to discuss its options for how to handle retail marijuana shops and processors, it won’t be the first to tackle the specifics on how — or where — to allow them within city limits.

Voters statewide approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, setting in motion a wide range of issues that the state Liquor Control Board has tried to answer. Prominent among them is how to regulate such an industry, including how it would be taxed, how it would be licensed for retail and growers, and how many locations would be acceptable. A lottery is scheduled to be held late this month to determine which of the upstart businesses that have gone through the application process will be awarded licences.

But it’s not that simple. The Liquor Control Board also allowed other jurisdictions to chime in. And they have.

Cities and counties statewide have had different responses to how to implement I-502. The Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, cannabisandsocialpolicy.org, has charted the 75 most populous cities in Washington and put them in one of four categories: Zoned, Moratorium, Banned or No Action.

It’s a bit surprising to find 47 percent of those cities — 35 of them, according to the website — have chosen to implement moratoria despite voters’ wishes for legalization. That doesn’t mean they won’t allow recreational marijuana in the future, but it means they’ve passed legislation to delay it for a certain length of time, typically six to 12 months.

Meanwhile, 23 cities (31 percent) have worked on zoning to allow for pot retail, the website found. It also reported cities such as Lakewood, SeaTac and Wenatchee are among those that have placed outright bans on it.

Out of the state’s 39 counties, Pierce is the only one to impose an outright ban, according to the website. Others — about one-third of them — have yet to take any action.

While we’re not advocating for recreational marijuana use — in fact, the McClatchy Co. is a drug-free workplace and requires a test before employees are hired — we’ve pointed out these statistics to highlight the anomaly I-502 has created.

The use of marijuana is still against federal law. And while states have individual rights — Colorado voters approved a marijuana measure when Washington voters did — nobody really wants to mess with the federal government.

Some governmental agencies are undoubtedly swayed by the likelihood of legal proceedings based on the outcome of this implementation process. Let’s face facts: Other than Colorado, which went live with its new pot law on Jan. 1, this is uncharted territory. You can bet there are lawmakers from other states who are watching Washington carefully to determine whether or not marijuana legalization is worth the effort.

Gig Harbor’s proposal is a respectful approach. As a member of “at-large” Pierce County, where up to 17 licences could be granted, city leaders may implement an extra buffer to put up to 2,500 feet between retail marijuana businesses. It would prevent multiple pot stores to be located in the same basic area. State law only requires a buffer of 1,000 feet from places minors typically gather — schools, parks, etc.

Instead of rejecting voters’ wishes, crossing their arms and turning a cold shoulder, city officials are working within the constraints of the law and taking into consideration how residents may feel about a retail pot shop down the street.

It’s a tough scenario for which there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground: Either you’re for full legalization, or you’re staunchly against it.

Yet it’s not governmental agencies’ jobs to tell the people what they should and shouldn’t do. Rather, they should work to establish, within reason, a structure for all to succeed.

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