By Doug Petrowski
Mountlake Terrace officials continued their efforts last week to formulate city codes that would eventually allow medical cannabis growing operations and retail sales of marijuana within the city limits. A report to the Mountlake Terrace City Council on April 11 concentrated on the medical marijuana aspect of potential new city regulations.
A current moratorium on city action concerning medical marijuana ends on June 15; city officials want to have new rules in place when the moratorium expires.
The council heard from city officials about the work that the Planning Commission has begun on instituting new codes for cooperative grow operations for medical cannabis. Although unlawful under federal law, state law allows for some patients to use cannabis for the treatment of a number of medical conditions; regulations on how patients grow or obtain medical marijuana in Washington state has, for the most part, been left to local jurisdictions.
The Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission hopes to have a draft Medical Cannabis Ordinance in place to review at its April 22 meeting. The commission and the city council would conduct public hearings and take possible action on the ordinance in May.
Initial proposed restrictions on cooperative “collective gardens” being discussed would lead to small, indoor, unidentified operations where no more than 45 marijuana plants would be allowed. No more than 10 patients could be part of a co-op, and an indoor grow operation would be restricted to sites in the northwest area of Mountlake Terrace, most likely north of 220th Street Southwest and west of 1-5.
Other restrictions being discussed include the number of plants allowed per patient, the number of ounces of usable cannabis allowed per patient, having just one garden per parcel or structure, the structure having no visible signs or evidence of the marijuana grow operation inside, the structure complying with all city building and fire codes, and allowing no retail sales of marijuana products at the grow site.
The Planning Commission is also outlining just where a collective garden operation could be established through the use of zoning and buffer regulations. Current rules being discussed include the operation be at least 500 feet from other medical cannabis collective gardens, public parks, elementary or secondary schools, day care centers and/or recreational facilities where persons under 21 years old are allowed.
Initial maps released by the city show the light industrial and office park area north of 220th Street Southwest in Mountlake Terrace as the target area for city allowance of collective gardens. “The conversation with the Planning Commission has always been focused more on the light industrial office park area, or possibly the adjacent area north of 220th,” explained Shane Hope, the city’s Community and Economic Development Director.
Hope stressed to the city council on April 11 that there are no state restrictions on where cooperative collective gardens could be established, so while the city can use zoning regulations to restrict them to desired areas, the city must be careful not to regulate them to the point of banning them entirely, opening up the city to possible legal litigation.
“One of the things that we’ll find is a challenge is to put reasonable restrictions on it without putting restrictions in such a way that you really can’t locate anything; it’s not practical. That’s really the same as zoning it out. So that’s the challenge,” Hope said.
The voter-approved I-502, which will eventually lead to retail sales of marijuana around the state, does include a 1,000-foot buffer zone for future pot stores. Councilmember Rick Ryan asked Hope why current city discussions about collective garden operations are focused on 500-foot buffer zones.
“The medical cannabis, we thought, there are two things,” answered Hope. “One is 500 feet seemed a little bit more reasonable for things that aren’t the full retail sales, like a liquor store, under I-502. Here we are talking about what is suppose to be a collective garden, that is you’ve got an unsigned building where people are in a co-op thing. That’s the intent. It’s not as obvious of a full-blown business like the other. We thought 500 feet might be adequate.”
“The other problem with a thousand-foot buffer is that you begin to get to the point of not having any place to put these. Because a thousand feet, in a city that’s only four-square miles, a thousand feet is a tenth of the city. So that’s the issue, trying to find what’s the right balance here between allowing a feasible place to locate and still making sure that it is not something that’s a free-for-all by any means,” Hope added.
Councilmember Doug McCardle asked if current businesses in the area targeted by city officials for collective garden operations might feel any “detrimental impacts” from their potential new neighbors. “We do know that in other locations, or other cities, that has not been a problem. I think it depends a little bit on how these things are operated,” Hope responded.
The light industrial office park area south of 220th Street Southwest along 70th Avenue West would be most affected by a buffer zone restriction, as it has three recreational facilities widely used by youth in the area. OlympicView Arena, 22202-70th Ave. W., and The Nock Point Archery Center, 22313-70th Ave. W., hosts dozens of youth classes and events daily, while The Family Fun Center is located nearby at 7217-220th St. S.W.
The city is waiting on the Washington State Liquor Control Board to draft rules concerning the retail sale of marijuana before it considers new zoning and business regulations for possible new retail pot stores. The liquor control board is expected to adopt its new rules in June.