Pot-to-grow zones get council OK

The size of grow operations is reduced as the City Council finds a compromise that satisfies the Port and the marijuana industry.
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Marijuana growing under a medical marijuana prescription outside Tacoma. 1/2013

The size of grow operations is reduced as the City Council finds a compromise that satisfies the Port and the marijuana industry.

There will be no football field-sized marijuana farms in the Seattle city limits, but indoor grow-operations slightly bigger than pro hockey rinks will be allowed under a bill the City Council approved on Monday. The bill establishes size and zoning requirements for marijuana production facilities and brings some closure to a contentious discussion about how much pot production to allow near the Port of Seattle.

“In some ways this is really history setting,” Councilmember Nick Licata said during Monday’s meeting. “There aren’t many cities in the United States right now talking about where they should locate marijuana growing operations.” The council voted 8-to-0 to adopt the measure — councilmember Tom Rasmussen was absent.

The approved legislation will permit marijuana growers to cultivate as much as 20,000 square feet in some industrial zones — known as industrial general 2 — and up to 10,000 square feet in industrial buffer and industrial commercial zones throughout the city. Marijuana production will only be allowed indoors and growers will need a state-issued license in order to get a city land-use permit for a pot farm. An earlier council plan would have allowed operations of up to 50,000 square feet.

The bulk of the property available to growers will fall within the industrial general 2 zones. These areas are mostly concentrated south of downtown, in or around neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, Georgetown and SODO. There are, however, other pockets of industrial general 2, industrial buffer and industrial commercial land throughout the city, where marijuana producers could meet the zoning requirements.

Marijuana industry supporters were amenable to the reduction in allowable growing-space. “Downsizing them from 50,000 isn’t a big deal,” Washington Cannabis Association media and policy director Phillip Dawdy said, referring to producers. “They’re tripping on the 1,000 foot rule in a lot of places.”

The so-called 1,000-foot rule, imposed by the state, says that all marijuana-related businesses must be 1,000 feet — as the crow flies — from schools and parks. Dawdy said the rule makes it difficult to locate production facilities in most industrial buffer and commercial zones.

After the council's bill goes into effect in November, no new marijuana production will be allowed in industrial general 1 zones, which the city created to protect maritime and rail-related industries. The council did, however, adopt an amendment that will permit existing facilities — growing up to 5,000 square feet of medical marijuana — to continue operating in these zones after the new legislation goes into effect. Council President Sally Clark and Tim Burgess were the only two council members to oppose the amendment.

Pot production in the industrial general 1 areas was a flashpoint between growers and the maritime industry. The Port of Seattle staunchly opposed expanding marijuana farms in maritime industrial areas, arguing that grow-operations would drive up warehouse prices, cause crime and increase traffic congestion.

Port spokesman Jason Kelly said the council’s decision to allow existing medical growers to stay up and running is a good solution to the conflict. “Those are operations that are already there, so it’s understandable that the council wants to grandfather those businesses in,” Kelly said. Dawdy agreed, saying, the council had reached a reasonable compromise. 

Other maritime-related business groups were less enthusiastic about the bill. "We're not crazy about it, but we’ll live with it and see what happens," said Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association. "We don’t want our existing businesses squeezed out." 

The 20,000 square foot limit on grow-operations in industrial general 2 areas was an important win for marijuana producers, according to Dawdy, though he added that most pot farms in the city would likely be smaller than the maximum allotted size. "The big buildings for growing pot are not going to be in Seattle, they’re gonna be elsewhere," he said. He did also say, however, that an approximately 20,000 square foot facility in South Park is currently growing medical marijuana. Dawdy estimated that an operation of that size could produce between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds of marijuana annually depending on the grower and said the current wholesale price for a pound of pot is around $2,400.

While the council’s bill resolves some uncertainty for the city’s emergent recreational cannabis industry, it provides no clear direction forward for existing medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill gives these businesses until Jan. 1, 2015 to comply with the new city rules, which means they will eventually need some kind of state issued license to stay open.

The state does not have a system in place to regulate or license medical marijuana. The Liquor Control Board, which is overseeing the licensing process for recreational pot production, processing and sales, currently says on its website that it is “silent on medical marijuana” and that medical retailers will have to go through the same process as their recreational counterparts to obtain licenses.

During Monday’s meeting, Licata said the council’s bill was not designed to end the medical marijuana industry. “That certainly is not the intent,” he said, adding that medical retailers “will continue to operate legitimately, provided they have at least a business license, until Jan. 1, 2015." By then, he said, they should have a state license, although not necessarily one from the existing framework of the marijuana legalization ballot measure, Initiative 502.

Alex Cooley, vice president of the medical marijuana producer Solstice, said after the meeting, “For my business it’s adapt or die.” Still, Cooley said he wasn’t disappointed with the council’s bill. “Something’s better than nothing. We can build it to be more in time.”


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