It appears that getting the green light to operate a marijuana business depends on your zip code. Some local governments in Washington are taking action to ban medical and recreational marijuana operations, while others are permitting or even attempting to encourage marijuana businesses. Jurisdictions permitting marijuana businesses may be welcoming decisions by others to adopt marijuana bans, which could result in more customers and tax dollars funneled to more pot-friendly jurisdictions. In the middle ground between banning and encouraging, local governments continue to debate what review processes and other requirements should be imposed for permitted marijuana operations.
On the “banning” side of this issue, the Washington Court of appeals just issued a decision upholding the authority of local governments to ban “collective gardens” for medical marijuana, as the City of Kent did in 2012. This decision comes on the heels of an opinion issued by the Washington Attorney General concluding that I-502, as drafted and presented to the voters, does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning recreational marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, on the “permitting” side of the issue, the King County Council is considering an ordinance that would amend the zoning provisions for Vashon Island to allow marijuana uses in certain zones. Due to an apparent oversight by the County when it adopted an ordinance allowing marijuana uses elsewhere in the County, such uses not allowed under the Vashon Town Plan’s current zoning provisions. On April 1, the County’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee voted to recommend approval of the ordinance to correct this oversight.
The committee voted against recommending an amendment to another ordinance, however, that would have raised the threshold size of an operation requiring a conditional use permit (CUP) from 2,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. The CUP process is intended to provide additional notice, opportunity for comment, and the ability for the County to impose conditions to mitigate site-specific impacts of a proposed use. Sponsors of the amendment argued that the 2,000-square-foot threshold was too low and would impose a costly and time-consuming requirement on small businesses attempting to get a foothold in the burgeoning marijuana industry. Opponents of the amendment preferred to “proceed carefully,” citing the “potential for odors” and other impacts, and argued that the fact that a CUP could cost thousands of dollars, and could delay approval of a marijuana operation for six or more months, did not make the CUP requirement unduly burdensome.
King County and other jurisdictions will likely continue to look at these issues closely, and consider potential amendments to their comprehensive plans and zoning regulations, as the implementation of I-502 continues to unfold.