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Ready for medical marijuana changes, Seattle makes more room for pot

As the state moves forward with its plans to move Washington’s largely unregulated medical marijuana system into its highly regulated and — highly taxed — retail system, Seattle has put new rules into place to better distribute thew stores across the city.

In a unanimous vote Monday afternoon, the Seattle City Council voted to approve a relaxed buffer to keep marijuana stores away from schools and parks and better regulation to prevent “Little Amsterdams” from popping up around the city due to the early restrictions placed on the industry.

The newly approved downtown pot producer and processor zones

The newly approved downtown pot producer and processor zones

Key to the new rules will be the newly relaxed 500-foot buffer for community spaces like transit centers, libraries, and parks. The existing 1000-foot buffer will remain in place for schools and playgrounds. Meanwhile, a more efficient “dispersion” amendment was also added to the legislation Monday that will establish a 1000-foot buffer wherever “two existing retail Major Marijuana Activity” business are located. The change will prevent the clustering of more than two marijuana retailers within the space of four to five city blocks. One additional amendment also passed will likely please downtown real estate owners — a downtown zone with a relaxed 250-foot buffer was created for marijuana producers and processors that could boost the industry’s presence in the approved areas.

“We are at the leading edge of a new industry. We’re trying our best to get this right,” the legislation’s author Council member Mike O’Brien said Monday before the vote approving the new rules.

The legislation must still be signed into law by the mayor and will not apply to existing businesses.

In December, Ruckus, Capitol Hill’s first pot shop, opened on E Republican at 15th Ave E. Previously, Uncle Ike’s opened at 23rd and Union in fall of 2014. Some of the clustering behavior forced by Seattle’s zoning restrictions played out when Ponder opened a few blocks away in fall of 2015.

As the new buffer and “dispersion” rules are put in place, Seattle could add up to 21 more pot shops as part of 222 new retail licenses the state Liquor and Cannabis board plans to issue this year. The board approved the expansion earlier this month after a study commissioned to determine the size of the state’s marijuana marketplace showed Washington could support more retailers.

“Our goal was clear; to ensure medical patients have access to the products they need,” said WSLCB director Rick Garza. “There will be more storefronts for patients going forward than are available today. In addition, qualified patients can grow their own or join a four-member cooperative.”

Many of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to close later this year under the overhaul, though there will be a pathway for some to transition into recreational shops. I-502 shops already in operation will also be able to obtain medical endorsements to sell medical marijuana to card-holding patients tax-free.

In the WSLCB-commissioned study (PDF), researchers from BOTEC Analysis estimated the state’s total market value of all marijuana consumed to be about $1.3 billion, consisting of 37% medical, 35% recreational, and 28% illicit.

While the early days of the industry produced eye-popping revenue totals for retailers in Seattle, more recently, concerns about a marijuana bubble have grown as production of pot has outstripped demand.


“From July 2014 through November 2015, licensed growers produced about 16,000 more pounds of marijuana than the amount retail stores sold,” Marijuana Business Daily reported earlier this month. “Producers are now sitting on a substantial amount of surplus inventory, and the future of many of them is in jeopardy,” the site reports. “Some could try to unload low-quality inventory at fire-sale prices, flooding the market and exerting artificial downward pressure on the broader wholesale price.”

There is another option to fix the supply-demand imbalance, of course. But that is up to you, consumer. Trying our best to get this right, indeed.

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