Will Tacoma council protect pot shops’ neighbors?

The Tacoma City Council appears to have backed down from a plan to enable “medical marijuana” sales in the city’s commercial districts.

Instead, it is contemplating a measure that would call dispensaries and other pot-selling operations what they are: illegal nuisances.

The move suggests that at least some members of the council recognize that the reality of commercial marijuana is far seedier than it seemed in 2010 – when the council more or less told the police to ignore trafficking if the traffickers put up a sign labeling the drug as “medicine.”

That tolerance policy spawned dozens of dispensaries that are not grandly popular with their neighbors.

Dispensaries were originally sold on the notion that they exist to serve people dying of cancer and suffering from other severe illnesses.

An increasing public complaint, though, is that many of the “patients” walking through their doors look for all the world like ordinary dopers. Any honest person close to the industry will concede that it caters to a whole lot of recreational drug users.

The nuisance measure now before the council acknowledges this reality.

It makes an all-important distinction between collective gardens serving 10 patients each – which are legal under state law – and the illegal commercial pot shops.

Its adoption would be a good first step. The question is whether it is a sop to quiet the critics or whether the council is serious about shutting down the dispensaries.

A truly serious policy would skip the nuisance-abatement process and proceed directly to enforcement.

The city would first issue cease-and-desist orders to the dispensaries – something the council has forbidden in the past. Then the council would let the police bust a few of those that kept operating. End of story.

If the dispensaries are treated merely as nuisances, nothing probably happens until neighbors start complaining. The onus is on ordinary citizens who don’t want the blights in their backyards.

How many complaints will it take to shut down a dispensary? Will your complaints be ignored if you don’t live on the same block? Will the operators be able to thwart closure with a thousand procedural challenges?

Ultimately, the nuisance-enforcement approach will depend on a City Council more interested in the neighbors than the marijuana sellers. The council’s past sympathies are a matter of record. Don’t put your money on the neighbors until you see dispensaries closing their doors.