WA: The Future Of Marijuana Shops in Lakewood Finally Has Been Decided

Photo Credit: Mathew Sumner

In a close vote, Lakewood has banned marijuana shops outright, joining the ranks of several other Pierce County cities that have said they don’t want cannabis businesses to operate within their borders.

The City Council voted 4-3 earlier this month to ban marijuana retailers, ending the ambiguity of a long-standing practice in which the city hadn’t officially banned weed shops but wouldn’t permit them to open.

In order to get a business license in Lakewood, that business has to comply with all state and federal laws. Cannabis remains on the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule 1 substances, those that the DEA says “are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The lack of a firm law banning pot shops created confusion for some applicants who’d considered opening a pot shop in Lakewood, said city spokeswoman Brynn Grimley.

“I think ultimately the council decided to make a decision because they needed to get something on the books so it was clear to folks out there whether it would or would not be allowed,” Grimley said.

The Lakewood Planning Commission reviewed the issue for months and voted, 4-2, to recommend to the City Council that pot shops be outlawed. The commission also came up with alternatives, including an option to site them in limited areas where they would be more out of the way.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board has authorized the issuance of two pot shop licenses in Lakewood, compared to Tacoma’s 16. Those numbers are based on consumption and census data, spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said.

Some who supported Lakewood’s ban argued that tax revenue from two shops wouldn’t make a difference in the city’s budget.

“Some people say this is really only pennies in comparison to our budget. That may be true — on the other hand what one person thinks of as a rounding-up error I would argue is seed money for a program that perhaps addresses bullying in middle schools,” said Councilman John Simpson, who voted against the ban.

“We’re leaving money on the table … It could be used for whatever the city decides that money could be put to use for, social service programs, putting up more street lights. There is something to be gained by having more money and not having less money.”

Simpson said he also respects what he called “majority rule.” Part of the reason he opposed the ban, he said, is because the majority of Lakewood voters approved Initiative 502, the 2012 ballot measure that legalized marijuana throughout Washington, and he wanted to respect their vote.

Councilman Jason Whalen, who voted in favor of the ban, said he wrestled with that, too.

“My struggle has always been … the citizens voted for I-502. They must have meant that not only do they want to legalize limited adult possession and use but also retail sales,” Whalen said. “However, as time went on and as the industry matured, it was more clear to me that that wasn’t necessarily what people meant when folks voted for I-502.”

He said he heard concerns about the “traffic” that retail pot shops in Lakewood would create and concerns about the city’s image. On top of that, he said the Clover Park School District asked the City Council to consider a ban, and the planning commission had recommended a ban.

“It’s a question of, what is the real benefit to Lakewood? The tax revenue wasn’t a deciding factor,” Whalen said. “There really wasn’t enough to worry about given the potential negatives that the business community was concerned about, that the school district was concerned about … especially given the work we’ve done in Lakewood over the last 20 years to improve our community image.”

Having now banned pot shops outright, Lakewood is ineligible to receive a portion of marijuana revenues distributed by the state.

Local governments that don’t have a ban on the books are eligible to share some of the tax money on a per capita basis. That’s the situation in Fircrest. That city doesn’t expressly ban or allow weed stores, so it’s eligible to receive some marijuana revenue from the state. It got $7,906 for the 2018 fiscal year.

Tacoma, meanwhile, is expected to get $574,051 from the state in marijuana revenue this fiscal year.

Many local governments in Pierce County either haven’t permitted or have banned pot shops, including Puyallup, Gig Harbor, University Place, Bonney Lake, DuPont, Roy, Orting, Steilacoom and Edgewood.