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Governor signs pot reform bill to ease zoning restrictions, streamline taxes

Marijuana freedom could spread on Capitol Hill under the new HB 2169 (Image: Alex Garland)

Marijuana freedom could spread on Capitol Hill under the new HB 2169 (Image: Alex Garland)

A city map from 2013 shows how the 1,000 foot buffer rule restricted most areas from I-502 shops.

A city map from 2013 shows how the 1,000 foot buffer rule restricted most areas from I-502 shops.

Recreational and medical marijuana taxes will fall under a single tax and zoning restrictions placed on I-502 shops could significantly ease under a reform enacted by Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday.

HB 2136, which the legislature passed last week, would allow cities and counties to significantly reduce the buffer rule that has kept recreational marijuana shops away from many dense, commercial areas like Pike/Pine. The current law states I-502 shops cannot be located within a 1,000 foot radius of parks, schools, and other specific gathering places. Localities could soon bring that buffer down to 100 feet under the new measure. We’re checking with the city to see how the buffer rule may change here. 

The 1,000 foot buffer rule created an odd permitting landscape, essentially restricting I-502 locations near Capitol Hill to the area around 23rd and Union and a 15th and E Republican. Having just a few highly coveted locations led to at least one permit holder losing out on his location after Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg swept up the property in a last minute deal. In the meantime, Samuel Burke is moving forward with his plans to open tok in the shop long occupied by Angel’s Shoe Repair.

CHS tackled the question of local pot zoning authority back in October amid protests by the Mount Calvary Christian Center over Uncle Ike’s opening next-door. The state’s 1,000-foot buffer rule was written into I-502 with the assumption that it would placate federal law enforcement officials. Under federal sentencing guidelines, there are specific penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of schools.

HB 2136 will also collapse the state’s current three-level tax system on I-502 growers, producers, and retailers into one 37% point-of-sale tax. Additionally, it would stop retailers from essentially getting “double taxed” by switching from an excise tax to a sales tax, in theory bringing down the price for consumers. Eisenberg told CHS that at 37%, the tax his customers won’t see much of a change in pricing.

Medical patients who are part of a registry, created in a separate bill passed by the legislature, would be charged the tax but exempt from sales tax. One provision removed from the bill would’ve required voter approval inside any municipalities seeking to ban I-502 shops.

There were a few buzz-kill provisions, as well. Marijuana clubs, drive-throughs, and vending machines are all explicitly banned in the bill.

Marijuana reform was a major issue in Olympia this year as lawmakers attempted to reconcile the highly taxed and regulated recreational system with the much less regulated medical one. In April, Inslee enacted the most sweeping overhaul to the state’s medical marijuana system since voters first approved it in 1998.

Under that reform, many of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to close by July 2016, though the overhaul does pave pathway for some to transition into recreational shops. I-502 shops already in operation will be able to obtain medical endorsements to sell medical marijuana to card-holding patients tax-free.

Eisenberg said he plans to one day serve medical patients at Uncle Ike’s. “No one knows exactly how it is going to work but I anticipate have a slightly more private setting for qualified medical marijuana practitioners to consult with patients,” he said.

For patients, the new regulations mean collective gardens will basically be gone by next year and but limited home grows are allowed. Under the old system, large grows that operated on the fringes of the law were occasionally shut down by police.

Meanwhile, Wednesday brought another Pacific Northwest state into the legalization fold as Oregon’s new laws allowing possession and consumption went into effect.

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6 thoughts on “Governor signs pot reform bill to ease zoning restrictions, streamline taxes

  1. “Medical patients who are part of a registry, created in a separate bill passed by the legislature, would be exempt from the tax.”

    I believe this is incorrect. According to what I’ve seen reported, medical patients will only be exempt from the additional SALES tax, which is not included in the 37% excise tax.

  2. I think the buffer zone as is (1000 feet) is a good thing….not because it’s all that important to keep pot shops away from parks/schools/etc, but because the buffer prevents our neighborhood from having pot shops everywhere, which is what will happen under a 100 foot buffer. The latter also will invite federal scrutiny and perhaps action, because under federal law the limited buffer will be illegal.