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City might consider classifying pot businesses as taverns

The City of Renton is considering treating recreational-marijuana businesses like taverns, instead of typical retail stores, and will only permit producers and processors in the city’s “Industrial Heavy” zone.

The city is also considering requiring all producers to be indoor facilities.

The potential rule changes were presented this past week to the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee as part of an update on the city’s progress on the issue.

Presently in the city of Renton, there is a six-month moratorium on the issuance of marijuana-related business licenses to allow the city time to deal with the issue, particularly zoning of businesses they had never before considered.

The current moratorium is set to expire April 4.

Though other cities, such as Kent, have opted to try and ban the businesses - a decision recently supported by a state Attorney General decision - councilmembers in Renton have decided that the voters have spoken and to move forward on implementation.

The current crop of proposed regulations are presently being developed by the city’s Planning Commission and will be presented to the full council for approval this spring. But this past week, Senior Planner Angie Mathias gave the council’s planning committee a look at the work thus far.

The first recommendation is to permit marijuana producers and processors in the Heavy Industrial zone, which is designed for processing raw material that have externalities, such as odor and noise that pose potential hazards to public safety or health.

Mathias said it was “reasonable” to assume that the same party might get a producer and processor license as a way to get around a 25 percent tax on sale between the two. Mathias also said because the processing of marijuana often involves solvents and gases that typically produce an odor, the businesses are “most similar to an industrial or manufacturing use.”

The city will also require producers be indoors.

The other major change to code will be to consider marijuana uses to be similar to taverns and allowed in the same zones.

Mathias said there are “strong comparisons” between the two, such as having to be 21 or older to enter and that they must register with the state Liquor Control Board. The main difference, however, is that no consumption is allowed on site of marijuana retailers.

“When we have a new land use that we have not classified before, we try to find something that it closely matches and then use that as a guide,” Mathias said in a follow-up email. “That is what we have done with taverns and marijuana retail.”

The effect of the classification of marijuana retail as similar to taverns will reduce the number of zones available to marijuana shops from 13 to six within the city.

Mathias said the main concerns from the Planning Commission revolve around protecting neighborhoods.

“This isn’t a land use we have any experience with,” Mathias told the committee.

The Planning Commission will continue to move forward on their rules with the goal of bringing them final recommendations to the council this month, prior to the ending of the city’s moratorium.

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