A year and a half after 1-502 was first passed by Washington State voters, Seattle’s first recreational marijuana stores have begun opening their doors. But amid concerns over high prices and inconsistent product availability, many of the industry’s business owners have expressed concern over the current regulations governing where recreational marijuana stores can begin setting up shop.
Due to federal law first established during the Reagan Administration, which still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, recreational marijuana stores must be 1,000 feet away from “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.”
Under this regulation, the large number of parks and schools across the Seattle area has made placement of recreational marijuana stores a difficulty. The Washington State Liquor Control Board previously attempted to redefine the 1,000 foot radius to be “along common path of travel” rather than “as the crow flies,” a classification that would have opened up additional areas for zoning across the city, but the decision was ultimately overruled by the federal government.
James Lathrop, owner of Seattle’s first recreational marijuana store Cannabis City, has said that the current restrictions are “crushing” for his business and the burgeoning industry, especially when coupled with the slow licensing process of the Liquor Control Board and the ever-present threat of the federal government pulling the plug on recreational marijuana stores entirely.
“Most of the residents of Seattle have said that they think the rules are pretty ridiculous when you look at them,” Lathrop told The Capitol Hill Times. “A thousand feet is a long ways. That’s almost the length of three football fields. It’s an excessive area and that blacks out the majority of Seattle.”
The slow rollout means any kind of change will be delayed. “Even if we had an ideal location that we could move our store to today,” says Lathrop, “I can’t do it because the LCB say they’re too backlogged with getting licenses up and running that they couldn’t consider moving our business for a year or more. Thirdly, the feds have allowed the ball to move forward, but they’ve reserved their card in hand to threaten property owners. We haven’t seen that happen, but landowners that are more conservative are taking that into account, so the federal position has left people nervous.”
The current restrictions have so far caused the SoDo area to become the most highly-concentrated area for the recreational marijuana market, where eight of the city’s 21 allocated stores will be located. Ballard will see five marijuana stores open, and North Aurora will house another three. For Capitol Hill, the closest location deemed acceptable for a recreational marijuana store by the LCB will be Mello Times on 24th and Union.
Lathrop has said although the current restrictions could be a boon to SoDo, the boost to tourism that the recreational pot industry will provide would be better used in a more established tourist neighborhood like Capitol Hill.
“I think that potentially SoDo could be really good for these businesses, and that these businesses could be really good for SoDo,” said Lathrop. “SoDo really could become a new Amsterdam as a tourist destination point. But the fact of the matter is, the area is pretty rough and tumble and pretty industrial. So really as a retail shop, I’d prefer to be in a more regular retail or touristy area, and Capitol Hill would really be an awesome location. Right now, my frontage is a bit rough.”
Although Lathrop has said that a change in the law would prompt him to consider opening a Capitol Hill location, the potential Union location has itself garnered criticism from nearby residents when the zoning map was first released last year. East Precinct Advisory Council (EastPAC) president Stephanie Tschida told The Capitol Hill Times that she had received a number of complaints from area residents over the proposed location.
“A lot of the messages I’ve seen from neighbors have been saying that they want to provide a healthy environment for their families and their children,” said Tschida in an interview with The Capitol Hill Times last fall. “Some of these people have lived in the area since their grandparents were here. I think the main concern that I’ve heard is who it is going to draw into the neighborhood.”
However, Lathrop has said that such concerns are unjustified, and that given the nature of the clientele he has so far served, fear of attracting crime or appealing to minors is not a legitimate concern.
“I personally would like to see my business in a better area, but I don’t think that these businesses are going to draw an untoward crowd,” Lathrop said.
“The history of this rule comes from the Reagan administration for increasing penalties for drug dealers around schools, that’s where this rule came from. We’re not drug dealers, and we’re not catering to children in any way. Even if we were near a school, they wouldn’t even be allowed in our store, so it’s really sort of a ridiculous correlation.”