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City closer to finalizing rules for marijuana businesses

This map shows the city
This map shows the city's retail zones that will be available to marijuana retailers as well as the buffers around sensitive areas.
— image credit: Courtesy City of Renton

The City of Renton is one step closer to finalizing its rules on recreational marijuana businesses this week but plans to extend its moratorium on medical marijuana businesses for an additional six months to further study the issue.

The City Council on Monday moved to final reading of an ordinance laying out the city’s rules for recreational marijuana businesses, based on recommendations from staff and the Planning Commission, who have been studying the issue during the present six-month moratorium, which expires April 4.

Under the new rules, marijuana producers and processors will be allowed in the city’s “industrial heavy” zones, while retail stores will be treated in the code like taverns and allowed in a limited number of retail zones.

Senior Planner Angie Mathias presented the recommendations to the city’s planning and development committee on March 13. She said the Planning Commission worked hard on the issue, finalizing its recommendation in a 4-3 split-vote at the end of a two-hour meeting.

“They really did consider a lot of different things,” Mathias said, calling it an “interesting conversation.”

Mathias said much of the discussion focused on buffer zones around sensitive uses and the possibility of adding new uses to the buffers recommended by the state Liquor Control Board, which include parks and schools.

The Planning Commission also considered buffers around substance-abuse treatment facilities and increased distances between the businesses and residential neighborhoods.

However, because no other uses in the city have such buffers, including bars and liquor stores, the commission decided not to add any new constraints. There was also concern about equity between buffers from single-family and multi-family homes.

The decision to classify retail shops in the same way as taverns is based on the “strong comparisons” between the two uses, according to Mathias, including age restrictions and the need for a special license from the Liquor Control Board. A difference, however, is that no consumption will be allowed at marijuana retail stores.

Mathias said some members of the Planning Commission were not particularly comfortable with the hours allowed by the classification, which could keep marijuana stores open much later than traditional retailers.

But classifying the businesses in a similar way as taverns limits the number of retail zones in which such businesses may open. According to Mathias, general retail sales are allowed in 13 of the city’s zones while taverns (and retail marijuana businesses) are only allowed in six zones, which she described as “more intensive commercial” areas.

Click here to see a larger version of the map.

For production and processing, the city is placing the business in its industrial heavy zoning and will require all production be done indoors. Mathias called the zone the “most realistic” for the businesses and said the valley will be the most likely location in Renton for the industries.

Planning Director Chip Vincent said it was clear that some members of the Planning Commission wanted to consider banning the businesses outright, as some cities propose, but the commission was told that was not an option because the mayor and council have repeatedly said that they will follow the will of the voters.

Renton is slated for three marijuana retail stores.

As for medical marijuana, the city is proposing to extend its moratorium for an additional six months.

Vincent on Monday told the City Council that the Legislature was expected to take up the issue of combining the medical marijuana initiative with the recreational marijuana initiative, but did not get to it.

While recreational marijuana is regulated and taxed, medical marijuana facilities are not and there is presently no “clear authority” on how to proceed with medical marijuana.

“We’re struggling because of the ambiguity in the current law,” said City Administrator Jay Covington.

There will be a public hearing May 12 on the medical marijuana moratorium extension.

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