Washington’s legalization of marijuana presents a dilemma to local governments.
Initiative 502, enacted a year ago, directed the state Liquor Control Board to create a system of licensed cannabis shops, distributors and farms.
Many local officials – including a majority of the Pierce County Council – are reluctant to designate locations for the peculiar new industry and its dubious product. Understandably, they don’t want to put their good housekeeping seal of approval on a psychoactive drug that remains illegal under federal law.
The council has been contemplating three options: an outright ban, approval contingent on federal permission and zoning as required by I-502.
Realistically, requiring federal permission would also amount to an outright ban. Although the U.S. Justice Department under Barack Obama has no plans to prosecute marijuana entrepreneurs who honor the restrictions of I-502, it has made no promises.
If juveniles or traffickers get more access to the drug, Washington’s U.S. attorneys have threatened to step in and crack down – regardless of the initiative. They want the state’s illegal, unlicensed “medical” marijuana dispensaries to disappear, too.
We think local governments ought to zone the licensed shops, etc., in accordance with I-502.
City and county councils have no power to deny these licenses; the licensing authority is entirely vested in the Liquor Control Board.
The board has its own restrictions: It won’t let operations open within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, game arcades and other places where children congregate. It will also consider neighborhood opposition to a marijuana business.
Under the initiative’s mandate, though, it will be licensing as many as 31 marijuana stores in Pierce County. Tacoma has designated zones for them; the County Council and most cities haven’t. By not doing so, they stand to forfeit all control over the locations.
If the feds ultimately shut I-502 down, zoning — or the lack thereof — simply becomes a moot issue.
Obstructionism also doesn’t make sense in a larger way.
Regulated legalization is an experiment that theoretically – theoretically – might cripple the black market in marijuana. The black market is a reality; marijuana is already pervasive in Pierce County. The drug is most dangerous to juveniles, who often lose their way in school, become addicted or slip into the drug culture once they get into it.
I-502 is an attempt to move the market into legal outlets, which will be strictly off limits to kids. Success seems a long shot, but now that the law is on the books, the experiment should be allowed to play out – fingers crossed.