Coming soon: The South Tacoma marijuana district

Note: This version corrects a statement in the original that collective gardens can serve up to 45 patients.

Take a look at the map to the right.

The dark spots mark properties where “medical marijuana” could be sold under a plan the Tacoma City Council appears ready to approve. There are numerous potential sales sites, especially in South Tacoma.

The dark spots with diagonal stripes mark areas where the marijuana can be grown in collective gardens and sold to anyone with an easy-to-obtain “green card.”

Note the broad grow-and-sell zone running down South Tacoma Way. Few other Washington cities feel the need to accommodate marijuana sales – which are illegal under state and federal law – so the plan promises to turn South Tacoma and the South End into magnets for many of the region’s marijuana seekers.

All this is great if you believe marijuana should be commercially sold – despite the law – and that the selling largely belongs in Tacoma’s lower-income neighborhoods. (The North End and Northeast Tacoma would be mostly excused from this duty.)

It’s not so good if you believe that Washington’s medical marijuana law is being broadly exploited by common drug seekers and profiteers enabled by officials in Tacoma and a handful of other cities. Not so good, too, if you don’t want to see the City Council bestow its seal of approval on what amounts to sanitized marijuana trafficking in the poorer parts of the city.

It would be easy for the City Council to do medical marijuana right, just by tweaking that map.

The issue is the selling of marijuana, not its use by seriously sick people who can’t get relief by other means. The collective gardens are legitimate. These are carefully defined under state law as operations that grow a maximum of 45 cannabis plants for up to 10 patients.

Collective gardens in Tacoma’s industrial areas could supply the city’s legitimate patients without the help of a commercial pot-selling industry. But the City Council appears intent on protecting the profitable marijuana “dispensaries” that have sprung up illegally around the city.

Even a dispensary arguably could be both legal and helpful if it were nonprofit and supplied marijuana only to members of an affiliated collective garden.

That’s not what the City County has in mind. The proposal before it – developed by a see-no-evil task force it commissioned – would effectively allow dispensaries to sell the drug to anyone who walked in the door with the requisite document. The so-called green card can be obtained as easily as describing an ache to a nurse practitioner via Skype.

As the task force pointed out, there’s much to be said for creating a legal framework that would restrict medical marijuana locations and allow Tacoma police to better monitor them. But that could be done far more easily by sticking to collective gardens and not perpetuating the illegal stores.

To date, the current City Council has shown little interest in policing any sales of marijuana labeled as “medicine.” South Tacomans take note: Whatever regulations the council adopts for this industry are not likely to be seriously enforced.