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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Legalized Marijuana Could Create City-State Friction In Washington

KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Washington state expects to adopt final rules for the structure governing legalized marijuana under I-502 by next week. So officials with the state’s Liquor Control Board are touring the state to get feedback before the rules take effect.

The new law could create tension between the state and its anti-pot cities. Everett is the anti-Seattle when it comes to medical marijuana regulations. Last December, just as recreational pot became legal, the city of Everett passed an ordinance declaring marijuana dispensaries a public nuisance.

Sean Green owns two medical marijuana dispensaries elsewhere in Washington but says he doesn’t know of any operating in Everett. He had opened a location there but was forced to leave when the city changed its policies.

“There were some public complaints about marijuana in the city, and officials took that and just closed it off completely,” Green said.

Now Everett is looking at zoning requirements for recreational marijuana, which Green said are overly restrictive as well. “Everett’s been, since the beginning, trying to put a road block in front of marijuana into the city, period.”

But some Everett residents aren’t thrilled about the idea of new marijuana stores.

Michele Rastovich told state regulators she wants them to tighten rules around recreational marijuana. Rastovich works in substance abuse prevention and said she’s concerned that marijuana retailers could end up selling infused candy products to kids.

“These public discussions of I-502 are already sending the message to young people that using marijuana is OK. What we do in this first year will set the tone for our community norms for years to come,” she said.

As the state’s Liquor Control Board prepares to issue licenses for new marijuana retail stores, cities are trying to make sure they retain the power to zone and control those stores. Grant Weed is not a marijuana advocate, despite his name. He is a lawyer representing many cities in Snohomish County. Weed said several cities have imposed moratoriums while they study whether to allow medical marijuana.  

“The general principle behind the moratorium is not necessarily to say no, we’re never going to allow your type of operation in our city, but moreover to have some time to carefully study what they want to implement,” he said.

Weed asked state regulators to make clear that marijuana licensees must follow local rules as well. He said the Association of Washington Cities wants to make sure that licensees know a state license does not constitute permission to break local laws. The association has also submitted comments to the Liquor Control Board as it prepares for draft rules to take effect in September.

Regulators expect to start issuing licenses in December 2013 or January next year.

Year started with KUOW: 2005