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Seattle seeks to close medical pot loophole with zoning rules

To close a loophole in state law and further control the growth of the medical marijuana industry, the city of Seattle is proposing to tighten its zoning laws.

When the state legislature approved collective medical pot gardens last year and established the size of individual collective gardens, it did not prohibit collective gardens from pooling resources or operating in the same space.

“Local advocates suggest that this aggregation of individual collective gardens will be commonplace,” the proposal claims. The new ordinance would limit “the level of activity allowed in zones with a predominately residential or historic character to what the State allows in a single collective garden.”

“Medical marijuana providers operate in a grey area between city, state and federal law,” Mayor Mike McGinn said in a press release. “This proposal is an attempt to better define appropriate operations for dispensaries. We look forward to hearing from the public on this approach.”

The gray zone

In July of last year, the council regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.

Just like any other business, medical cannabis suppliers have to comply with, among other things, the city's Chronic Nuisance Property laws, the American with Disabilities Act and noise and anti smoking laws. They also are inspected by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, pay taxes and fees.

Earlier this year, the city of Tacoma shied away from direct regulation of medical marijuana farms when it scrapped a plan to regulate them directly.

Instead, in July it set up a “framework to abate, fine or otherwise crack down on those gardens that draw complaints or noticeably run afoul of a list of new restrictions,” The Tacoma News Tribune reported.

However, Tacoma left dispensaries out in the gray zone, according to the Tribune:

The city won’t be as permissive of cannabis dispensaries. Such retail pot pharmacies – which aren’t defined in the state’s medical cannabis law – are now explicitly labeled as “a public nuisance per se.” That means they are not permitted under any circumstances.

Apparently, Tacoma hopes its dispensaries will morph into collective gardens to live under the new rules.

In the zones

The zones in Seattle being addressed in the new law would be:

"... Single-Family, Multifamily, Pioneer Square Mixed, International District Mixed, International District Residential, Pike Place Mixed, Harborfront, and Neighborhood Commercial 1 zones in order to prevent the impacts that could result from the aggregation of individual collective gardens into larger commercial operations."

Under the new rules, the growing, processing or dispensing of cannabis would be limited to:

  • 45 cannabis plants
  • 72 ounces of useable cannabis
  • An amount of cannabis product that could reasonably be produced with 72 ounces of useable cannabis

“My goal is for zoning regulations that minimize possible neighborhood impacts while providing reasonable access for patients,” added Council President Sally J. Clark in the press release.

“We want to create standards now so that we don’t repeat what is happening in Los Angeles, where law enforcement raids shut down operations of good and bad businesses alike and eventually City Council banned dispensaries altogether because there were few standards in LA to hold operators accountable,” said Councilmember Nick Licata in the release. “For this reason, I hope access point operators and neighborhood residents will agree that they each can benefit from the consistency and accountability that these regulations will provide.”

Not to be confused with legalization

On the ballot this year, Initiative 502 would legalize the possession of marijuana, but would not legalize home growing and would create a DUI provision based on the amount of active THC in a driver’s bloodstream. These two regulations as well as how the new law if passed would affect medical marijuana users are at the heart of the debate.

Here’s the plain-language version of the proposed law presented by initiative backers, New Approach Washington

This law legalizes the possession of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. The only marijuana that would be legal to sell in this state would be grown by specially-licensed Washington farmers and sold in standalone, marijuana-only stores operated by private Washington businesses licensed and regulated by the state.
There would be a 25 percent sales tax, with 40 percent of the new revenues going to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. Advertising would be restricted. A new marijuana DUI standard that operates like the alcohol DUI standard would be established.

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Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to