Update on Marijuana Zoning in Seattle

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marijuana in seattleIn the wake of the passage of I-502, the City Council is considering setting limits on where marijuana-related activity can take place in Seattle.

Legislation to set zoning limits was discussed on June 24 at the Full Council, and eventually held under July 22. Four committee meetings were held to review the legislation, beginning on March 27.

The legislation would:

  • Set a limit on the size of indoor agricultural operations in industrial areas;
  • Limit activity what the state defines as one collective garden in residential and historic zones; and
  • Clarify the terminology used to describe growing in industrial zone property in Manufacturing and Industrial Centers (MIC).

In Seattle’s MICs there are currently no size limits for urban farms, the land use category permits would be issued under. The proposal would set a limit of 50,000 square feet in IB, IC and IG2 zones (54% of industrial land) for indoor agriculture, and prohibit growing in IG1 zones (46% of industrial land).

Recreational growing would only be allowed if a potential grower receives a permit from the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Under I-502, growers or sellers must be at least 1,000 feet away from a school, playground, recreation center, child care center, park, or library. This makes industrial areas the most likely areas in Seattle where recreational marijuana growers could receive a Liquor Control Board permit.

Collective gardens are permitted under state law for qualified medical marijuana patients.

Zoning ties in with work at the state level to implement recreational marijuana as passed by voters last November, and the status of medical marijuana.


Under I-502, the Liquor Control Board is charged with a several tasks. What’s relevant for city zoning laws is that by December 1, the Board must:

  • Determine the maximum quantity of marijuana a grower may have  on premises, taking into consideration:
    • Security and safety issues
    • The provision of adequate access to licensed sources of marijuana, useable marijuana, and marijuana-infused products to discourage purchases from the illegal market
    • Economies of scale, and their impact on licensees’ ability to both comply with regulatory requirements and undercut illegal market prices

An initial rules draft issued in May did not include size limits. On July 3, the Board members will decide on issuing a formal notice of rules with the State Code Reviser. Of interest to the city will be whether there is a size limit for growing operations. The Liquor Control Board rulemaking process calls for final rules to be published on August 16; the Board could also decide to determine limits after receiving applications for potential growers during the 30-day application window currently scheduled to begin on September 14.

Anyone who wants to grow recreational marijuana must receive a permit from the Liquor Control Board. Otherwise, it will remain illegal.


The State’s current medical marijuana law is somewhat confusing, due to a partial veto of legislation passed by the legislature in 2011. Qualified patients are allowed to grow marijuana for medical use under state law; however, any zoning restrictions are the responsibility of local government. Seattle currently has no zoning limits covering marijuana in residential areas.

This legislation would limit growing to what the state defines as one collective garden in residential and historic areas.

Senator Kohl-Welles, the author of the 2011 legislation, has stated her intent to address this during the 2014 session. Hopefully, this will provide some clarity.


Current city zoning does provide some limits for indoor agriculture, but does not explicitly limit growing to one collective garden in residential zones, or provide any size limit whatsoever in industrial zones.

It’s important to be clear on this—I’ve heard comments that imply that the current situation is akin to a moratorium. It is not. Growers can currently apply for permits in industrial areas. The longer we wait, the more issues will be raised when the Council acts. Depending on the type of permit a potential grower applies for, issues of vesting may arise.

I’d hoped to avoid this by acting sooner.

Should we provide administrative certainty to potential growers? I think we should, and the sooner the better, for what will legal businesses under state law. I think we need to set reasonable expectations, and a clear timetable. Potential growers will have a 30-day window to apply beginning on September 14, and the Liquor Control Board is encouraging potential growers to contact their local governments about zoning. Currently, we don’t have a clear answer for them. I’d like to provide reasonable administrative certainty for newly-legal businesses that require time and investment to set up.