Not in My Neighborhood! Marijuana and Zoning Laws in Seattle

If you own property or are looking to start a marijuana-related business in Seattle, you should pay close attention to the zoning laws over the next couple of weeks and months.

Last year, Initiative 502 legalized recreational marijuana use and possession in Washington State.  Now local municipalities, counties and the state government are responding by enacting amendments, ordinances and regulations designed to facilitate and control the new recreational marijuana industry.   An example is the City of Seattle’s recently proposed amendments to the zoning laws.  The proposed amendments include:

  • An amendment to modify the amount of production, processing, selling, or delivery of marijuana, marijuana-infused products, or usable marijuana that can be conducted in association with any business or residence in certain residential and historic character areas such that the limits would apply per month rather than at any one time.
  • An amendment to increase the proposed maximum size of indoor agricultural operations in Manufacturing and Industrial Centers to as much as 50,000 square feet.
  • An amendment to clarify the definition of “food processing” uses.

Restricted Zones

The City is proposing the creation of restricted zones in an effort to prevent large scale marijuana operations in certain areas and the negative impacts that come with these operations.  The restricted zones would have the following limitations:

  • 45 marijuana plants;
  • 72 ounces of usable marijuana; or
  • An amount of marijuana product that could reasonably be produced within 72 ounces of usable marijuana.

Currently, the City is looking to designate businesses or residences in historical or special review districts, or Single-family, Multifamily, Pioneer Square Mixed, International District Mixed, International District Residential, Pike Place Market, Downtown Harborfront and Neighborhood Commercial 1 zones as restricted zones.  Any areas not so designated would be regulated according to existing provisions in the Land Use Code or comparable uses by zone designation.

Marijuana and Existing Definitions

At this time, the City is not looking to make wholesale changes to existing zoning laws, but rather will continue to rely on existing zoning definitions and regulations for activities such as retail sales and light manufacturing.

With that being said, the City is looking to make some modifications to existing definitions.  One example is the definition of “Food Processing.”  The City wants Food Processing to include marijuana, but this is already causing significant confusion, as people typically do not think of marijuana as food.  In hopes of clarifying, the City is proposing changes to the definition of Food Processing to include marijuana and marijuana-related products.  Proposed changes include replacing the word “food” with “products” and including catering services under the definition.  These changes will make it more clear that marijuana and marijuana-related products are included in the definition of Food Processing.

Limits on Manufacturing and Industrial Centers

Finally, for those individuals looking to operate a marijuana grow operation in the more industrial regions of Seattle, the City is proposing a change to the existing allowance for agricultural uses within designated Manufacturing and Industrial Centers (MICs).  Community gardens and urban farms are currently allowed within MICs, but only on rooftops or as vertical farming.  Vertical farming is not defined within the zoning regulations, but it is generally understood to include intensive indoor farming where containers and grow lights could be stacked to allow compact production.  The proposed amendment would clarify the existing regulation by replacing “vertical farming” with “indoor agricultural operation” and define it as “a business establishment with an agricultural use that is limited to plants grown in containers within the interior of an enclosed structure.”  The City is also debating whether to increase the size of grow operations in MICs from 10,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet.   It is not yet known what direction the City Council will take regarding the proposed amendments.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Ben Seegar or any member of our Retail, Hotel & Restaurant team.