Seattle to Allow Recreational & Medical Cannabis Businesses, With Heavy Cultivation Restrictions

Seattle will allow both medical and recreational marijuana businesses to operate in the city – with restrictions – under a new ordinance that charts a course for the cannabis industry going forward.

The measure, which city council unanimously approved on Monday, has broad business implications, affecting everyone from entrepreneurs looking to open grow sites targeting the adult-use market to the estimated 200 unregulated dispensaries scattered across Seattle. (You can read the entire text of the ordinance here.)

On a broader scale, the move shows a willingness by the city to allow marijuana businesses in general – which could set the tone across Washington State. On a more immediate level, it gives entrepreneurs looking to open recreational marijuana businesses in Seattle the go-ahead to move forward with their plans.

“There was concern that the city would pass very restrictive zoning regulations that would push the business out into unincorporated areas,” said Ryan Agnew, an attorney who is closely involved with marijuana-related issues in the state. “In that situation, other cities would look to this vote to see whether or not enacting moratoriums on these businesses is politically viable. This is a sign to other cities that they should be welcoming this new business and looking at the economic development possibilities.”

Numerous municipalities across the state have been hesitant to fully accept the marijuana industry, enacting and renewing moratoriums on cannabis businesses. Now, however, more cities could move forward and establish zoning regulations for the industry, following Seattle’s lead.

Here are the business-related highlights of the new ordinance:

– Seattle will allow recreational marijuana cultivation operations in certain parts of the city, though the size will be capped at between 5,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet depending on the exact area. The biggest grow sites will be in select industrial zones, while 10,000-square-foot operations will be allowed in industrial buffer and industrial commercial zones. The 20,000-square-foot limit in Seattle is disappointing to some in the industry, as the state officially allows grows of up to 30,000 square feet. Still, relatively large commercial cultivation operations will be able to take root Seattle

– All cultivation must be indoors, and growers must first get a license from the state to get a permit from the city.

– The biggest opportunities to set up a cultivation site will be in areas south of the downtown core (Beacon Hill, Georgetown, etc.), but businesses will still have to find available space, amendable landlords, etc. Additionally, state rules require marijuana businesses to be at least 1,000 feet from parks, schools and other areas where children congregate, and Seattle’s ordinance adds historic/landmark districts and residential areas to that list as well – meaning it could be quite tough to find space.

– Existing medical cannabis grow sites currently operating in industrial areas that are otherwise off-limits to the industry (namely those near the Port of Seattle that have a high concentration of maritime businesses) can remain in their current location, as long as they are growing less than 5,000 square feet of cannabis.

-Dispensaries, grow sites and infused-products companies that handle more than 45 marijuana plants or 72 ounces of useable marijuana must get a state license by Jan. 1, 2015 or close. The state is currently working on overarching rules for medical cannabis businesses. This requirement will help legitimize the industry, as existing medical marijuana businesses in Seattle operate in a largely unregulated environment. They’ll also have plenty of time to comply – another proposal would have given them only six months. The alternative could have been to ban dispensaries and related business entirely, or possibly to do nothing, which would leave the operations in limbo. However, it could cost MMJ businesses tens of thousands of dollars to comply with the new rules.

– Medical marijuana patients can now form collectives and grow as many as 45 plants.

The medical marijuana industry certainly didn’t get everything it wanted out of the measure, and some of the restrictions are onerous. But this is one step in a much longer process.

“The bottom line (is that) our industry has been recognized and governed in the halls of lawmakers,” said Greta Carter of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics.

Image credit: dherrera_96 via Flickr