City reduces business restrictions

Leader Staff news@ptleader.com
Posted 1/17/17

The prospect of a marijuana processing or manufacturing business opening within the city of Port Townsend now exists.

“We now have two retail [marijuana] stores that the state allows,” said …

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City reduces business restrictions

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The prospect of a marijuana processing or manufacturing business opening within the city of Port Townsend now exists.

“We now have two retail [marijuana] stores that the state allows,” said John McDonagh, senior planner with the city’s Development Services Department. “What we may see from this [buffer-zone change] is someone deciding to do production or processing in the commercial corridor.”

Last fall, the Port Townsend City Council voted to relax regulations, per state law, that would open more commercially zoned areas along the Sims Way corridor to marijuana-related businesses.

In 2015, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board began allowing local jurisdictions to reduce the space between marijuana production, manufacturing and retail businesses, and other facilities. Port Townsend has been complying with the state law that marijuana businesses could not be within 1,000 feet of elementary and secondary schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child care centers, public parks, public transit centers, libraries and arcades.

The city does not have any arcades or any facilities that the state would define as child care centers.

The state now allows the buffer to be reduced from 1,000 feet to as close as 100 feet, but only with certain facilities. A marijuana business still must be 1,000 feet away from elementary and secondary schools and public playgrounds. In Port Townsend, an example of a public playground would include Chetzemoka Park or Pope Marine Park, but not private land on which there may be play equipment.

The city planning commission discussed the buffer zone issue at workshop meetings that took place last August and September, and the general consensus of the members present was that the 1,000-foot buffer should be reduced to the minimum required (100 feet) wherever such reduction is allowed under state law.

The recommendation was forwarded to the City Council. The council vote on the buffer reduction was 5-2 in favor, with Catharine Robinson and Bob Gray opposed.

“For the council members who voted in favor of doing this, I think it was a twofold statement,” McDonagh said. “First is that we want to recognize this as a legitimate business use to the extent allowed by law and remove a barrier to that business use, and secondly, to make sure the supply of land is available.”

The change primarily opens business opportunities along the Sims Way (State Route 20) commercial corridor, McDonagh noted.

The change does not increase the number of retail marijuana shops allowed within the city limits. Port Townsend is allowed two, based on the state’s formula. PT’s second retail store opened late last year near the Howard Street roundabout on Sims Way. There are five marijuana retail stores in Jefferson County: two at Discovery Bay, two in Chimacum and one in Port Hadlock.

There are at least 12 marijuana-producing or -processing businesses in Jefferson County. Marijuana processing takes many forms, from something as simple as sorting and bagging marijuana for sale to converting a commercial kitchen operation to produce edible marijuana products.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean a large building,” McDonagh said, “but all of it does need to happen indoors.”

David Timmons, city manager, said a business application has been submitted for a business to open a cannabis-processing facility in the Sims Way corridor.

“The majority of the processing and growing businesses are in Glen Cove,” Timmons said of the commercial area about a mile from the city limits.

In theory, the commercial property being made more accessible to development with the Howard Street Extension project would be an eligible area for marijuana businesses. A few years ago, a counseling service located in the Port Townsend Business Park hosted a school-district-sanctioned program, so the 1,000-foot buffer applied. That school connection no longer exists.

“Slowly but surely I think the market here and entrepreneurial spirit here is trying to find just what Port Townsend’s niche will be, and council actions to reduce the buffers and reduce the regulations required where we were able to do so reflects that,” McDonagh said.

According to the 502Data website, marijuana businesses in Jefferson County in 2016 (through November) generated $4 million in retail sails, $2 million in processor sales and $2 million in producer sales. State excise tax collected during that time period is estimated at $1 million.

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