A temporary zoning ordinance will expand the number of Olympia properties eligible for recreational marijuana sales.
However, state law still stands in the way for some downtown applicants, including one medical marijuana outlet that specializes in serving veterans.
The Olympia City Council approved a first reading of a zoning ordinance Tuesday before a crowded council chambers. The item will return for a second and final reading Dec. 15.
The zoning change comes as the state Liquor and Cannabis Board prepares to announce the number of new marijuana licenses it will grant. The board is waiting on a report due later this month about the demand for marijuana in Washington.
According to state regulations, all medical marijuana storefronts — also called collectives — will need a recreational retail license if they want to stay open. All non-licensed operations in the state must close by July 1.
Under current city regulations, 243 parcels comply with zoning for recreational marijuana sales, and most are located on the east side along the Pacific Avenue corridor. The new zoning will add another 427 parcels to the list.
The Legislature has authorized cities to reduce 1,000-foot buffers to as low as 100 feet in some cases where land use is restricted, such as near parks or public transit. With the new zoning, Olympia will reduce buffers to 500 feet in these areas. The only exception applies to schools and playgrounds, which require a state-mandated buffer of 1,000 feet between a store and school property.
That buffer rule is a problem for Rainier Xpress, which is located at 322 Fourth Ave. E., just inside a 1,000-foot buffer for the playground at the Hands On Children’s Museum and the East Bay Public Plaza.
Rainier Xpress owner Patrick Seifert, who served in the Marine Corps, has been a visible advocate for helping veterans, many of whom treat PTSD and other ailments with medical marijuana. The dispensary also hosts a support group called Twenty22Many (pronounced “twenty-two too many”), which refers to the number of U.S. veterans who commit suicide every day.
The Liquor and Cannabis Board reports that it will deny a license to any applicant located within 1,000 feet of a restricted use. Seifert and supporters pleaded with the council to help Rainier Xpress stay at its current location by modifying the cannabis zoning requirements for downtown Olympia. Several people praised the positive effect Rainier Xpress has had on their quality of life as well as the community.
Councilman Jim Cooper even proposed an amendment to reduce the buffers for downtown businesses to 250 feet, but the amendment still wouldn’t have helped Rainier Xpress because of state law.
Councilwoman Cheryl Selby reiterated that the city cannot change the state buffer. She tried to reassure Rainier Xpress that the dispensary could still succeed in another location.
“As you can see by your supportive customer base, you’re on to something. Your clients will find you,” Selby said. “Unfortunately, we’re all part of a grand experiment and are being held hostage to a grand experiment that we have no control over at this point.”
Unless he can find a quick solution, Seifert told The Olympian that Rainier Xpress is likely “flat out done.”
“I don’t have any choice,” he said.
Of the 11 medical marijuana outlets in Olympia, the zoning change will benefit two outlets on the city’s west side: Olympia Alternative Medicine at 2405 Harrison Ave. and NW Express at 234 Division St. Two other medical storefronts — Cannatopia and Evergreen Alternative Medicine — are already located in the properly zoned Pacific Avenue corridor.
Steve Mohr, owner of Olympia Alternative Medicine, said he is happy with the zoning change and will apply for a recreational license. The dispensary opened about four years ago.
“We’ve jumped through every hoop there is to get a license. We should be fine on that,” Mohr said.
That process almost came to a halt Tuesday when, at one point, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum suggested the council postpone its vote until the Liquor and Cannabis Board decides how many new stores to license. Considering the need to apply for a license as soon as possible, Mohr said tabling the decision would have put his dispensary and similar applicants at a disadvantage.
“Inaction would have been the worst thing ever,” he said.