Legalized marijuana shops may have a hard time getting started in Pierce County as a result of action by the County Council last week.
The council narrowly voted to prohibit licensed marijuana businesses until Congress removes pot from the list of federally controlled substances.
The county’s position is contrary to state regulations, scheduled to take effect this month, that would eventually allow 31 stores in Pierce County to sell marijuana under Washington’s legalized market for regulated, recreational use of the drug.
The state Liquor Control Board, which has regulatory authority over retail sales of marijuana that voters statewide approved in the 2012 election, has established rules to help govern the producing, processing and selling of marijuana..
Initiative 502, the voter-approved ballot measure that legalized a restricted marijuana market, requires store allocations per county to be based on population data from the state’s Office of Financial Management. There will be a cap on the number of stores that can be located in each county. For Pierce County, the limit is 31. Of those, 17 would be allowed in unincorporated areas or towns and cities that are still to be decided. Maximums that have been set so far for individual municipalities include eight in Tacoma, two in Puyallup, two in Lakewood, and one apiece in Bonney Lake and University Place.
The state-enforced regulations will become effective Nov. 16. From Nov. 18 to Dec. 18, the board would accept applications for licenses to produce and sell marijuana starting next year.
But the County Council has a different idea. In a 4-3 vote Nov. 5, the council approved an ordinance – subject to County Executive Pat McCarthy’s approval – that puts a prohibition on legalized retail sales of marijuana as long as the drug is a controlled substance in the federal government’s eyes. The slim council majority included Jim McCune, whose district includes the Eatonville and Graham areas, and Dan Roach, whose district has parts of Kapowsin. Voting with them were council members Joyce McDonald and Stan Flemming.
The Liquor Control Board is going forward with its rules, which meet federal enforcement priorities that were announced earlier by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Sharon Foster, the board’s chairman.
The board has decided 334 stores can be allowed statewide. At the county level, cities with the largest populations are allocated a proportionate number of stores, with the remaining outlets available for other areas of a county.
Pierce County would have the second largest number of stores statewide. King County, with 61, would have the most.
Statewide, the total number of licensees would be allowed to produce 40 metric tons of marijuana in a combined 2 million square feet of space. In addition, there are limits on the number of licenses that any producer/retailer could hold. No more than three licenses could be granted to any single business, and no operation with multiple stores could have more than 33 percent of the licenses allowed in any single county or city.
The state regulations emphasized public safety and consumer protection, such as:
· All grows must meet strictly controlled, on-site security requirements, strict surveillance and transportation requirements.
· Computer software will track inventory from its production to sale.
· License applicants will undergo background checks for any criminal records.
· Potential loss of license for violations of safety guidelines.
· Restricting certain advertising that could be focused on children.
· Sales of only lab-tested, approved products, with dosage and warnings included on packaging and labels.
· Child-resistant packaging.