On December 6, 2012, recreational use of marijuana became legal in the state of Washington, but how the new liberty will be regulated is still vastly undetermined. Cities have a lot of say in how the drug will be handled within their borders and Blaine city planner Michael Jones hopes to get ahead of the eight ball to put city laws on the books before anything becomes an issue. “We only have a law, and it’s an initiative at that, so it’s not the best crafted. We have to work out the details,” he said.
“If you had told me five years ago, or even a year ago, that I would be giving this presentation I wouldn’t have believed you,” Jones said as he addressed city council members on February 28 on measures regarding I-502, the initiative that decriminalized recreational use of marijuana. He outlined the law and its implications for the city and made recommendations to council on how to approach the future of marijuana manufacture and sales within city limits.
I-502 legalizes personal use of marijuana and the issuance of licenses for its cultivation, processing and sale. It prohibits public consumption, Jones said. “It is still illegal for someone to walk down the street and smoke it. It’s designed for personal use in a private setting,” he said. The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) has been given a year to create regulations. Currently, it is legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, but it cannot be bought or sold. “Basically, it has to magically appear,” police chief Mike Haslip said. Marijuana was decriminalized for medicinal purposes in 1998 in Washington, but still remains a Level 1 controlled substance under federal law. In 2011, the medical marijuana system was formalized and allowed for self-supply, collective gardens and providers. A prescription is still required and dispensaries remain illegal.
To control where and how the plant is grown, Jones suggested that the city define the indoor cultivation of plants as the manufacture of a product rather than agriculture so that it can be restricted to the manufacturing districts of Blaine. “This is important in my opinion,” Jones said. “Locations are very limited for where these stores can be. There has to be a 1,000-foot buffer between producers and sellers, as well as from sensitive sites such as schools, parks and daycares. It has a pretty significant effect.” Referencing a map created to reflect the 1,000-foot buffer zones, Jones noted that a “pretty big chunk of the manufacturing district” was ineligible.
Jones went on to suggest that the council could initiate a code amendment with the manufacturing definition in mind.
The code would also apply to tomatoes, chilis and ginseng among other hothouse plants.
“If you’re going to grow it, you have to grow it inside where it is safer and more secure,” Jones said. “The state is looking at this from a seed to sale profit and they don’t want to lose any revenue, so I expect they will be watching closely.”
Jones conceded that it’s going to be a tough row to hoe. “I don’t think there’s any feasible way for me or anyone else to regulate every single garden and yard in Blaine,” Jones said. “I don’t like to make laws I can’t enforce. That’s why I’m suggesting [the amendment] be considered for commercial sales.”
“We don’t expect any decisions tonight,” Haslip said. “This is just an introductory session. There’s an awful lot we don’t know yet about the new law, but the train is moving down the track and we want to keep up with it.”
Haslip said that residents could expect to see retail sites cropping up in the fall as WSCLB develops its security standards and policies for the distribution of the drug. “It’s a source of revenue, so the state is invested in ensuring that cash flow,” he said.