Legal marijuana in Mountlake Terrace? At the March 14 City Council work/study session, city officials considered two types of legal cannabis — medical and recreational — and the steps that they may take to address the ever-changing legalities of marijuana in this state.
The allowance of medical marijuana dispensaries in town, though currently banned, is looking more possible following discussion at the meeting. And state-allowed retail stores for the sale of recreational marijuana could be set up in a handful of locations around Mountlake Terrace, according to a map released by the city.
While the two developments concerning legal cannabis sales and distribution are significant, it will still be some time before either marijuana dispensaries or storefronts start appearing around Mountlake Terrace, if ever.
Medical marijuana dispensaries
While the State of Washington has allowed the use of medical cannabis in limited circumstances since 1998, there have never been any medical marijuana dispensaries in Mountlake Terrace. The city has had a moratorium on the establishment of such dispensaries since 2011; the current ban expires on June 15.
City officials have begun discussions on allowing the ban to end and creating the necessary regulations to permit medical marijuana dispensaries. The city’s Planning Commission has been looking at the issue this past winter, with further study and comment scheduled through April. The City Council may consider regulations for dispensaries in May.
“In order to have something in place before the current moratorium expires, these steps – preparing an ordinance and doing the research – need to continue speedily along,” the city’s Community Development Director Shane Hope told the council last week.
In a presentation to the City Council, city officials outlined some initial general zoning codes that could be adopted to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. They included for the operations to be “collective gardens,” to be entirely indoors, to be licensed, to be subject to safety inspections, and to be limited to areas already zoned for Light Industrial or Office Park.
The council could reinstate the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, or allow them with no regulations at all, but neither option received any serious discussion.
Retail stores for recreational marijuana sales
The passage of Initiative 502 last year has led to legalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana and marijuana-infused products in Washington state, and required the state to license and regulate the production, processing and retail sales of marijuana. The voter-approved initiative also specified that marijuana retailers cannot locate within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, parks, recreation centers, day care centers, libraries, arcades and transit centers. The 1,000-foot restriction limits where marijuana retailers could set up shop in Mountlake Terrace, but it doesn’t rule out the establishment of such stores entirely in the city.
“There are very, very few places where there could be a retail location, at least based on our preliminary analysis,” Hope said. She pointed out that the only commercially-zoned areas in the city that may work for marijuana retailers were along 212th Street Southwest, a small pocket of part of (but not all of) the Cedar Plaza shopping center at 228th Street Southwest and Cedar Way, some of the southern section of the Town Center district along 56th Street Southwest, and the light industrial area in the northwest corner of the city.
The state’s Liquor Control Board is in the initial stages of creating the rules concerning the production, processing and sales of recreational marijuana, but doesn’t expect to begin issuing licenses for any of the steps until this fall. The earliest that they project retailer licenses to become effective could be Dec. 1.
City Councilmember and restaurant owner Seaun Richards was skeptical that the liquor board would be able to stick to their ambitious schedule, especially when it came to issuing retail licenses. “Being a person that has had five liquor licenses in the last 20 years, and it takes up to 60 days to get a liquor license, I find it hard to believe that they’re going to start taking license applications in late November and issue a license by Dec. 1,” Richards said.
The liquor control board is also expected to define just how many marijuana retailers could be licensed in each county, but officials are unsure what other restrictions the board will come up with, or if cities can restrict retailers beyond the use of zoning ordinances.