On August 12, the Seattle City Council intends to vote on a bill that would further restrict legal pot grows in Seattle, and critics say that would make a bad problem worse.
The marijuana initiative passed by voters last fall already banned legal pot businesses almost everywhere in Seattle, due to regulations that prohibit them near schools, transit centers, and parks. The few spaces that remain when pot businesses open next year, according to a map issued by the city's planning office in January, are scattered patches in far-flung neighborhoods and a large swath of industrial land in Sodo.
But in passing this pot bill, the city council would cut out more than half of the area where growing should be legal under state law and a previous bill draft.
"It's very shortsighted," says Alex Cooley, a medical cannabis cultivator who recently obtained a permit specifically for a marijuana production warehouse in the industrially zoned Sodo neighborhood. "We need to allow for as much geographic space as possible for this new use because of the difficulty finding properties." Cooley says the move will discourage medical pot producers from permitting their grows and will push legal cultivators out of town.
The law would create a new type of property use, called "indoor agricultural operation," and allow pot grows up to 50,000 square feet—which is quite large—up from the 10,000 feet proposed in a previous draft of the ordinance. But thanks to recent complaints from the Port of Seattle, the latest draft of the bill bans production of cannabis in a zone called Industrial General 1, which makes up 46.2 percent of the city's industrial areas (much of which is in the Sodo area).
"Industrial General 1 represents that portion of the city that is the highest value to the port and associated businesses," says Brennon Staley from the Department of Planning and Development, the lead planner working on the city's pot zoning proposal. "We at the city are concerned that if too much of that port area is displaced by other uses, it could make it difficult for the port to operate in general."
The port-placating change reduces Seattle's proposed pot-growing land by more than 50 percent, according to my analysis. A legal cannabis cultivator in Seattle would have approximately 1,070 properties to consider in Sodo, Georgetown, South Park, Interbay, and Ballard.
Some say the fear of pot gardens significantly increasing land values in port-dominated zones seems far-fetched. "It's not that we're taking port property, or we're going to steal buildings from port landlords," says Cooley. "As growers, we're taking out of the discard pile when it comes to buildings we can get."