Washington residents will soon be able to apply to sell the state’s newest legal commodity: marijuana. But, would-be pot sellers in unincorporated Pierce County say they’re getting picked on.
An ordinance passed this week means they have to get federal approval first, which they think will be impossible.
“Let us try, let us try,” said Warren Birchard, a medical marijuana shop owner.
Birchard wants to convert his shop outside of Lakewood into a retail one.
“We’re zoned perfectly, there’s no schools around us, it’s not residential, it’s zoned commercial,” he said.
But Birchard says he can’t open his doors because of a new ordinance passed by the Pierce County Council Tuesday night.
The ordinance allows for marijuana production and processing operations, but it limits retail stores to urban areas where stores will blend in better.
County leaders say the public doesn’t want to see a pot store everywhere they turn.
“What they’re doing is saying we don’t care about state law,” said Jay Berneburg, an attorney representing more than 200 marijuana shop owners.
According to Berneburg, the ordinance goes against the will of the people. Initiative 502 passed in the county with 54 percent support.
“If my clients are damaged, litigation is the way we’ll go,” he said.
While county leaders expect backlash, restricting the location of pot stores was a compromise based on public concern.
County Councilmember Stan Flemming, who sponsored the ordinance, said the issue still has many details yet to be ironed out.
“The state is telling us absolutely go do it, it’s legal. The Feds on the other hand says it’s illegal,” said Flemming.
According to the State Liquor Control Board, similar situations are happening all over the state. Communities are passing pot store road blocks that require store owners to get permission from the Federal Government first.
“The whole initiative 502 has put local governments in a very precarious situation because it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said Flemming.
That’s why board members sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office asking for clarity on the law. A response is expected by February. Ultimately, the courts will make the final decision.
As for Birchard, he plans to fight.
“As far as we need to,” he said.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy must sign the ordinance before it takes effect.
Applications for licenses open up on November 18th, primarily for producers and processors. The state is expected to start awarding licenses in late February, with stores slated to open by June.