Seattle will reduce buffer zones in some places while trying to keep the stores from clustering in some neighborhoods. The plan to allow additional shops, however, may not work as intended.
Legal pot businesses would be allowed in more parts of Seattle under rules approved Monday by the City Council.
Mayor Ed Murray proposed relaxing state-imposed buffers between pot shops and some sensitive areas, such as parks and arcades. As required by state law, the buffers would remain at 1,000 feet between pot businesses and schools and playgrounds.
Murray’s aim was to accommodate new shops the state will license as it tries to fold medical-marijuana dispensaries into its system for recreational stores, while trying to keep them from clustering.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has proposed doubling the number of legal retail stores in Seattle from 21 to 42. Murray’s plan would add about 1,600 acres of available land citywide for pot merchants.
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The mayor also pushed regulations that effectively shut down some 60 dispensaries while creating a path for some of the 50 long-standing, rule-abiding dispensaries to locate storefronts in Seattle once licensed by the LCB.
The council, for the most part, agreed Monday with the mayor’s plan, reducing buffers from 1,000 feet to 500 for pot businesses in most of the city.
It further reduced buffers to 250 feet for pot shops in Belltown and parts of downtown to make it easier for adult tourists to buy legal pot, said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, and to deter illegal street dealing.
At the same time, the council imposed a new rule that does not allow more than two pot shops within 1,000 feet of each other citywide. That would amount to no more than two pot shops within a neighborhood business district, or roughly five blocks, said Councilmember Tim Burgess.
Buffers for pot growers and processors would be reduced to 250 feet citywide because those businesses tend to be so nondescript the public doesn’t know they exist, said Councilmember Mike O’Brien.
But the rules may not work as intended.
The LCB has put 54 Seattle store applicants on a path to licensing, but without including some dispensaries the city hoped to help. That means some dispensary operators who attempted to follow appropriate rules may be shut out, at least in the short term, Murray said in a letter to the LCB.
Murray suggested the LCB should give Seattle 20 more stores, or 62 in total. On a population basis, that would put Seattle on par with the number of stores allotted to Everett and Tacoma, Murray said.
That still would appear to be too few to accommodate Seattle’s 22 licensed stores and 50 long-standing dispensaries.
All of the retail applications moved forward by the LCB will be grandfathered, or exempt from the city’s new buffers. That means the new, more permissive buffer rules would apply only to stores the LCB may license in a future wave of expansion.
New stores would instead be forced to comply with the old 1,000-foot buffer, Murray said.
And it may burden a few neighborhoods with becoming “green light districts,” he said.
Murray’s staff had asked the LCB to hold off on processing Seattle licenses until his proposal went through the City Council.
But the LCB said Monday that Seattle moved too slowly.
“The bottom line,” LCB spokesman Brian Smith said, is that the agency has been preparing to bring medical operators into the recreational system since April.
The LCB may expand the number of stores in Seattle, if needed, he added, and noted that qualified medical patients may grow their own marijuana or join a four-member cooperative to meet their needs.