“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
With time running out before the state must finalize all laws regulating the sale of marijuana, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) has announced its intention to file an emergency rule revising the language used in the creation of a 1,000-foot buffer between any marijuana store and K-12 schools, parks and other locations that cater heavily to children. While the technical revision is minute, the change has been made to keep in accordance with federal law and prevent any challenge from the Department of Justice to the new system of recreational marijuana regulation that could help the state generate billions in revenue.
A regulation shared by liquor stores within Washington State, the 1,000-foot buffer rule is to be used in-between marijuana stores and “an elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library, or arcade where admission is not restricted to those age 21 and older.”
However, the rule for how the 1,000-foot buffer would be measured was previously amended on September 4, from a strict 1,000-foot radius from these locations to instead “be measured along the most direct route over or across established public walks, streets, or other public passageway” to allow for less-restrictive zoning of marijuana stores, and, therefore, more possible areas available to developers. When the WSLCB learned that this would be in conflict with federal law, the WSLCB announced that they would enact the emergency rule to revert the law back to the previous, more restrictive measurement, thus closing the door on numerous locations that had temporarily been open to developers.
“The current measurement mirrors the existing method of measurement between liquor-licensed businesses and schools,” said agency director Rick Garza. “We’ve since learned that this measurement, as it pertains to marijuana, conflicts with federal law. Although the emergency rule won’t be filed until October 16, it is critical that we announce our intentions now so that potential licensees, local government and law enforcement will have clarity and predictability going forward.”
On Capitol Hill, an area that many would expect to have a high concentration of marijuana stores due to a profuse amount of nightlife, would currently only have one cross street available for a marijuana store with the stricter measurement: 15th Avenue East and East Olive Way.
Had lawmakers gone forward with the plan to measure the 1,000-foot buffer for marijuana retailers in the same way that they had with liquor stores, Capitol Hill likely would’ve seen at least one more possible site for development. Prior to the passing of Initiative 1183 in 2011, and the closure of state-run liquor stores the following year, Capitol Hill had two state-run liquor stores.
Regardless of the current restrictions imposed on the placement of these stores, Seattle will have the largest concentration of marijuana retailers in the state, with 21 planned locations out of the total 334 allowed for under the new rules. Approximately 40 more stores will be present in the rest of King County.
Once the stores open mid-2014, Washington will be the second state to sell marijuana in a legal, taxable system. Colorado, which legalized the sale of recreational marijuana the same time as Washington voters passed I-502 last November, will become the first state to legally sell marijuana when their stores open in January of 2014. Colorado’s laws for the regulation of marijuana were finalized by Governor John Hickenlooper in June.
As Washington State officials currently estimate that the legalization of marijuana will generate $1.9 billion over the next five fiscal years through the direct sale of the substance as well as growth in marijuana tourism, similar to that of Amsterdam, other cash-strapped states are now beginning to consider an end to the prohibition of marijuana as well.
The next state likely to vote on the legalization of marijuana will be Alaska, which needs 30,169 signatures to ensure that a ballot measure will appear in next August’s primary elections. Alaskan voters had previously decriminalized marijuana, and a recent poll found that 54 percent of voters favored legalization. Other states that may soon see legalization appear on their ballot boxes include Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Rhode Island and Vermont.