Tacoma delays closure of unlicensed marijuana stores

Stores that sell marijuana in Tacoma without a state license will not see letters in the mail this week asking them to close up shop.

In December, the Tacoma City Council told staff to send letters telling medical marijuana shops to get a state license or close by summer. City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli told the council Tuesday that she planned to send the letters the next day.

But some Tacoma City Council members said Tuesday they want to wait and see if the Legislature will change laws surrounding medical pot before sending letters to nearly 60 businesses that already illegally operate in Tacoma.

Sending a letter telling businesses to close now could confuse shop owners if the city had to backtrack because of a new state law, they said.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass regulations for medical marijuana this session, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said she’s ready to propose a city licensing system that would allow about a dozen medical marijuana stores, not the 58 or so that currently operate.

Strickland said she has a good idea based on “anecdotal evidence” that some shops “are not serving patients with legitimate need.” She said she has heard that some shops don’t require customers to show medical marijuana cards.

“We want a mechanism to shut down the illegal stores,” Strickland said.

The illegal shops undercut the prices of the state-sanctioned stores operating legally under the recreational marijuana system authorized by Initiative 502, city officials said.

The state Liquor Control Board has allocated eight licenses for Tacoma recreational marijuana stores. As of Tuesday, seven were open.

The City Council has set rules for those stores that largely mirror the state’s rules, but are a bit more restrictive about location. Shops cannot locate within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, jails or rehabilitation facilities.

Medical marijuana shops don’t follow those rules. At least one is located across the street from a day care center and has been there for more than a year, Councilman Joe Lonergan said.

The unlicensed businesses also do not have city business licenses, nor do they pay taxes to the city.

Supporters of medical marijuana said last year that the city’s proposal to close medical shops came out of nowhere. They flooded a City Council meeting in January to plead for continued access to medicine some said is more effective than pharmaceutical drugs.

“There was some good, moving testimony about some of the products that are not available at a recreational store because they are not manufactured for a high,” said City Councilman David Boe. He urged the council to delay enforcement.

The council will take up the issue again once the Legislature’s direction becomes more clear. The Legislature will adjourn its regular session April 26 but could keep meeting into May or June if special sessions are called.