By July 1, 2016, all unlicensed marijuana sales operations in unincorporated Pierce County – medical and recreational – must close. That message has been delivered to county landlords, business owners and operators whose establishments involve the burgeoning marijuana market.
Pierce County’s Marijuana Enforcement Policy Task Force, a collaborative effort made up of representatives from the County Executive’s office, the County Council, the County Prosecutor’s office, Planning and Land Services, Pierce County Responds, and the Sheriff’s department, began issuing letters of intent on Friday, July 24.
“It’s important that these individuals know that after a certain date they will no longer be allowed to operate,” said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “However, it is our sincerest desire to work closely with these businesses in order to assist their compliance with the law. They’ve got plenty of time, and county resources are available to help them transition through this fledgling period.”
Under county code (chapter 18A.12), unlicensed marijuana sales establishments – sometimes referred to as “pot shops” – are illegal in the unincorporated portion of the county. While the county ordinance has been in place since Dec. 20, 2013, due to developing interpretations of state and federal laws it has largely gone unenforced.
“We owe it to our citizens to provide clear guidance and direction on this matter just as we would any other county issue,” said Councilmember Joyce McDonald, who represents Pierce County’s 2nd Council District. “Come July 1, 2016, there will be a significant increase in enforcement now that the state has provided a greater number of enforcement tools we can employ. By that date, we’ll be well on our way to shutting down illegal operations.”
In April, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5052 which amends current recreational and medical marijuana laws, requiring unlicensed facilities to close by the July 1, 2016, deadline. Penalties for violating the law after that date could include arrest and criminal prosecution.
Under current law, individuals wishing to open retail marijuana establishments in Pierce County must obtain a license from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, as well as applicable county permits, in order to operate legally. However enforcing the law prior to the Legislature’s action in April would have been costly and fraught with legal questions, which is why the task force recommended waiting until the state clarified its stance.
For more information on state licensing requirements, please visit www.liq.wa.gov. For more on the county’s zoning and development regulations, please visit www.piercecountywa.org/pals.
Joyce McDonald, Pierce County Council
Al Rose, Executive Director of Justice Services