Pierce County leaders don’t agree on whether federal or state law should be followed in plans for legalized sales of marijuana.
The County Council this month passed legislation prohibiting licensed marijuana businesses until Congress removes pot from the list of federally controlled substances. The council’s action was rejected last week by County Executive Pat McCarthy, whose veto may wind up being reversed by the council to let the original legislation stand.
The council’s position is contrary to the wishes of voters statewide and state regulations. The rules, which are taking effect this month with the start of applications for marijuana businesses, would eventually allow 31 stores in Pierce County to sell marijuana in Washington’s legalized market for regulated, recreational use of the drug.
Regulations to govern the producing, processing and selling of marijuana are the product of the state Liquor Control Board, which has regulatory authority over retail sales of marijuana that voters approved 12 months ago in the 2012 election when they passed Initiative 502, the pro-pot sales ballot measure.
The state regulations require store allocations per county to be based on population data from the state’s Office of Financial Management. There will be a limit on the number of stores that can be located in each county. For Pierce County, the maximum 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.
Proposed marijuana businesses have until Dec. 18 to submit their applications to the Liquor Control Board, which started receiving them Nov. 18.
In a 4-3 vote Nov. 5, the County Council passed an ordinance that puts a prohibition on legalized retail sales of marijuana as long as the drug remains a controlled substance under federal law. 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.
McCarthy, who has veto authority over legislation from the council but rarely exercises it, put it to use last week against the marijuana ordinance. She said the council must follow state law, even though it conflicts with federal law.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last August that it had no plans to challenge Washington’s law on legalized sales of marijuana.
To override McCarthy’s veto, the council needs five votes from its members.
Separate from the tiff inside county government, the town of Eatonville is taking steps in preparation for any state-approved marijuana businesses. The Town Council is considering possible zoning regulations that would comply with state rules and would govern where such businesses could be located in the town. Stores would be permitted only in certain commercial zones, and the manufacturing of marijuana would be allowed only in areas zoned for industrial uses.
A final public hearing on the zoning is scheduled for Dec. 9.
The Liquor Control Board has noted that its regulations meet federal enforcement priorities Department of Justice.
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 per year. Other restrictions include the number of licenses that any producer or retailer can hold. No more than three licenses can be granted to a single business, and no operation with multiple stores could have more than 33 percent of the licenses allowed in any county or city.