Legalized marijuana sales in Pierce County will have to wait at least a few more months while state and local officials figure out how to manage it.
The County Council unanimously voted July 2 to delay the start of the marijuana market in Pierce County until state licensing rules are set and the county adopts permanent zoning regulations.
In last November’s general election, voters statewide approved Initiative 502, which creates a framework for the licensing, production and sale of marijuana for recreational use. The state Liquor Control Board, which is adding marijuana to its regulatory authority that includes liquor, is working on rules for I-502 that could take effect later this year.
Pierce County Council, in their decision last week, said they want to allow enough time to consider if additional local regulations will be needed for the county’s unincorporated areas.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions. This temporary delay gives us time to study our options for local regulations,” said Councilman Jim McCune.
Marijuana-related activities will be on hold for six months. During that time, representatives of the council, the county executive, and the county’s Sheriff Department, prosecuting attorney and Planning and Land Services department will work on proposed regulations for the council to consider adopting this fall.
“Like other local communities around the state, we need to act now to ensure that the marijuana industry doesn’t get started before we have the opportunity to consider its impacts on our citizens,” said Councilman Doug Richardson.
The day after the council formalized Pierce County’s buildup to pot sales, the Liquor Control Board approved proposed state rules that, if enacted, will help govern how marijuana is produced, processed and sold in Washington recreational marijuana. The rules detail the requirements for participating in Washington’s fledgling system.
“Public safety is our top priority,” said board chairwoman Sharon Foster. “These rules fulfill the public expectation of creating a tightly regulated and controlled system while providing reasonable access to participation in the market.”
The foundation for the rulemaking began after the November 2012 passage of Initiative 502. The board conducted eight public forums statewide attended by a combined 3,000 people, and board members and liquor control officials and board members gathered other input as part of a public comment period that ended June 10.
The resulting proposals for recreational marijuana control include:
* All grows must meet strictly controlled on-site security requirements.
* Strict surveillance and transportation requirements.
* A system to track inventory from start to sale.
* Criminal background checks on all license applicants.
* Penalties, such as loss of retailing license, for public safety violations.
* Restricting certain advertising that may be targeted at children.
Officials said consumer protection measures would include packaging and label requirements including dosage and warnings, child-resistant packaging, the sale of only lab tested and approved products, limits on package sizes, and store signs to educate customers.
The preliminary approval of the state regulations July 3 started a timeline the Liquor Control Board plans to follow for eventually putting the rules official. Public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 6-8, followed by a board vote Aug. 14 to approve the rules. They would take effect Sept. 16, the same day prospective marijuana vendors could start applying for licenses. Authorities would begin issuing licenses in December or next January to producers, processors and retailers.
Board officials said public hearings tentatively are being scheduled at locations to be announced in Olympia, the Seattle area, Ellensburg and Spokane.