Ty Swenson
Chris Cody, owner of the Herban Legends medical marijuana access point in White Center, talks with a King County employee about their proposed rules to limit both recreational and medical marijuana operations in unincorporated areas. Circles on the map represent off-limit areas and take up most of North Highline.

King County proposal could limit marijuana grows and sales in most of North Highline

King County is publicly presenting their proposal for where and how both recreational and medical marijuana shops, collective gardens, cultivation and processing will be allowed in unincorporated areas with implementation of I-502 coming up around the turn of the New Year.

As the proposal stands now, the vast majority of unincorporated North Highline and White Center will be off limits to all of the above based on zoning restrictions and a clause that keeps those activities from occurring within 1000 feet of “youth-oriented facilities such as parks, libraries, schools, child care centers, and game arcades.”

Existing medical marijuana operations already in place, however, will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue operation under current legislation (this will include any that open up from now until the legislation is actually implemented, expected to occur in the next few months).

King County’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review is in charge of drawing up the legislation, and Executive Dow Constantine is expected to present his final proposal to the Metropolitan Council by the end of August for review and a vote.

One of four public meetings brought King County to the TAF Bethaday Learning Center in White Center on Aug. 8, where county officials explained their current plan and opened up the floor for questions.

For those interested in reading the full ordinance, it is available for viewing at Permitting’s website (look on the upper right side, under “Recent News”). Full maps of where marijuana facilities will be allowed are expected to show up on the website by Aug. 13.

Here are the basics on zoning and proximity to youth-oriented facilities, from King County (*italics are my notes):

Indoor growing and processing of marijuana would be allowed in areas zoned as Community Business, Regional Business, and Industrial.

Outdoor growing would be limited to the Agriculture and Rural Area zones (none of these zones exist in North Highline).

Retail sales would be allowed in the Neighborhood Business, Community Business, and Regional Business Zones.

All recreational marijuana businesses operating under the system created by voters through Initiative 502 would require a valid license from the State of Washington. The initiative prohibits the siting of those businesses within 1000 feet of youth-oriented facilities such as parks, libraries, schools, child care centers, and game arcades. Proposed rules under consideration by the state would require fencing and other security measures for all licensed facilities, including outdoor growing.

The proposed King County ordinance would also codify standards existing in state statute for medical marijuana uses, by allowing individual growing and collective gardens authorized for qualifying patients under that state law. The proposed ordinance would prohibit collective gardens (including multiple garden access points, commonly referred to as dispensaries) within 1000 feet of youth-oriented uses, the same as with recreational marijuana facilities.

Medical marijuana cultivation for personal use would include limits on the area that could be used for growing (currently 50 square feet), lighting (no more than 1,200 watts)… (and prohibit) use of gas products (CO2, butane, etc) for cultivation. Side note: We asked John Starbard, director of Permitting, if the 1000 foot rule applies to patients growing for personal use (i.e, not as part of a collective garden). He said the proposal is “silent” on that topic.

We’ll post the map to our website once it’s available, but under the current proposal the only areas OK’d for marijuana industry and retail is a swath of land south of South Park, east of SR 99, and west of the Duwamish. The majority of that area is zoned industrial, meaning it’s OK'd for indoor growing and processing. An much smaller section of that area is zoned Regional Business, and therefore OK’d for indoor growing, processing and retail. The retail core of White Center, including 16th Ave. S.W. and the surrounding area are zoned for those purposes, but proximity to youth-oriented facilities kick them out of consideration.

Public comments were far reaching at TAF on Aug. 8, from marijuana-rights advocates claiming the restrictions on medical patients for personal gardens are too restrictive to potential large-scale growers (for recreational use) stating the current maximum indoor cultivation area of 30,000 square feet is far too small.

Alex Cooley, owner of Solstice – the first fully permitted indoor marijuana grow operation in Seattle history – said by including medical marijuana collective gardens (and multiple garden access points) in the legislation, “You are, by de facto, creating a moratorium on medical cannabis” as it will greatly limit where they can operate, making patient access a concern.

On the positive, some White Center community members, including North Highline Unincorporated Area Council President Barbara Dobkin, were encouraged by the proposed law.

“We are all happy to see that our community of White Center and downtown will not be inundated with marijuana stores or grow operations,” Dobkin said, speaking for her council.

Meanwhile, the City of Seattle is nearing a council vote on how they want to set up manufacturing, distribution and retail as well (they are considering similar regulations, including no recreational storefronts within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, community and transit centers). Interestingly, a map released by Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development in February that shows areas theoretically ok’d for recreational and medicinal facilities includes a section of 16th Ave. S.W. just north of Roxbury St. (where White Center and Seattle meet).

So while most of White Center may be off limits, the story could change just across the street.

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