LAKEWOOD – There’s so much information – and misinformation – floating out there about Initiative 502 and the recreational use of marijuana that it’s hard for residents to discern fact from fiction.
In the City of Lakewood, elected leaders are discussing how to move forward on marijuana business rules. It’s not as easy it might sound. City leaders must balance the federal prohibition of marijuana use against the State of Washington, where residents passed I-502 to legalize recreational use of the drug. That included a majority of voters in Lakewood.
To help residents cut through the haze and get to the City’s stance on recreational marijuana, we have produced this FAQ sheet that should help make it clear:
Q. Has the City of Lakewood banned marijuana?
A. No. The City relies on rules that allow the denial of a business license if that business is conducting, “in whole or in part, activity that is illegal under local, state or federal law.” (Not all cities have this code, by the way). Because the City has the ability to deny a business license to produce, distribute or sell marijuana, a ban or moratorium is unnecessary.
Q. Will the City deny a business license to sell marijuana within its limits?
A. That’s a tougher question for which the answer depends on different factors. It’s the whole state-vs.-federal conundrum. The State of Washington has acknowledged that it will develop more rules as I-502 takes effect, but state law makes recreational marijuana use legal. However, there’s no sign that the federal government will remove its prohibition on the drug, which leaves the City of Lakewood and other local governments possibly open to litigation. The City will have to consider the risk of following state law against the risk of following federal law, which again could make the City liable for interfering with a business enterprise. As a general rule, Lakewood takes into consideration the impact of any proposed business within its limits, including public safety, community image and the sentiment of residents.
Q. Why can’t the City of Lakewood zone for retail marijuana?
A. One of the things about I-502 is it limits local control of marijuana regulation. Instead, the State has placed its own restrictions on sales, including the number of marijuana shops a local government is allowed and those shops’ proximity to sensitive facilities such as daycares and schools. The City does have the authority to zone an area as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but it can’t zone a specific form of business, such as marijuana. For instance, a shop won’t be able to open in a residential zone because commercial activity – such as the sale of marijuana, cars, clothes, food or any other product, for that matter – is prohibited in those areas.
Q. What is the State of Washington’s role in retail marijuana?
A. The State is in the process of implementing I-502 statewide. Initially, the theory was all marijuana sales would be state-regulated, like the way it does with liquor. Recently, there have been questions over whether local governments can completely ban marijuana, and those questions have yet to be answered. What we know: Although the City determines what types of businesses can operate in Lakewood, the State determines whether a business can sell marijuana, as it’s responsible for licensing of all retail marijuana sales. As we said before, the state determines how many shops are allowed within a city, as well as their proximity to places such as daycares and schools.
Q. So then, how many stores will be allowed in Lakewood?
A. The State of Washington has allotted up to two retail marijuana shops. (By the way, this doesn’t include production and distribution facilities). Again, only two marijuana shops will be allowed in the City of Lakewood. The State has also imposed a 1,000-foot-buffer around those sensitive facilities that we mentioned before. As a business, retail marijuana can be sold only in commercial zones, and it can’t locate within a buffer zone even if it is commercial. If more than two retailers apply for licenses, the state will conduct a lottery for the right to the available spots. The State will also perform an analysis of the retailer and the proposed establishment, including a criminal background check and security of the proposed facility. As part of the state licensing process – which mirrors the liquor-licensing process – the local government can offer its input. That input can consist of fact-based concerns with the location, such as crime statistics. Ultimately, decisions regarding who gets to sell marijuana specifically in the City of Lakewood are entirely the State’s.
Bottom line: You won’t see more than two marijuana shops in Lakewood, and those shops will have to locate in pretty specific areas.
Q. So, will people be allowed to smoke marijuana in the same places where they can smoke tobacco?
A. Nope. State law makes it an infraction to use marijuana in public.
Q. Will tax revenue generated by marijuana sales benefit the City of Lakewood?
A. Nothing in I-502 specifically directs tax revenues to the City. That said, the manner in which marijuana sales tax revenue will be distributed has yet to be determined. Some argue that cities that ban marijuana sales shouldn’t benefit from the tax revenue, while others suggest that the impact of marijuana sales transcends city boundaries. We’ll report back when the issue becomes clearer.