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Originally published Monday, October 7, 2013 at 10:04 PM

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City Council OKs pot rules to limit size, areas of farms

The Seattle City Council approved zoning for pot commerce that allows limited growing in industrial areas and permits people to grow 45 plants in homes throughout the city.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Pot farms of up to 10,000 square feet will be allowed in most Seattle industrial areas under zoning approved Monday by the City Council.

The decision marks a slight retreat by the council, which had approved 50,000-square-foot farms — almost the size of a football field — in a May committee vote.

Since then, though, the full council delayed action until it could see the state’s rules, which now cap all growing operations for legal recreational pot at 30,000 square feet.

In an 8-0 vote, with Councilmember Tom Rasmussen absent, Seattle became the first large city in the state to prepare such detailed regulations for the new recreational-pot system approved by Washington voters last year.

But it wasn’t done without some complaints by medical-marijuana entrepreneurs and concerns from advocates for marine-related industry.

“We are in a delicate position of trying to create a new industry,” said Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored the regulations along with Council President Sally Clark.

The council allowed farms of up to 20,000 square feet in one industrial zone, called IG2.

The council “grandfathered” smaller, 5,000-square-foot growing operations in another industrial zone, called IG1, closest to the Port of Seattle and maritime businesses. But all other farms would be excluded from that industrial sanctuary once the rules take effect in November.

The Port of Seattle and local manufacturing and industrial groups opposed pot farms in that zone because maritime industries are limited in where they can go, but pot can be grown outside the industrial sanctuary, including outdoor farms in Eastern Washington.

The industrial groups said they aren’t opposed to pot. But they are concerned that marijuana businesses could drive up rents and displace existing businesses.

“These new businesses will still have good options for locating in the city in the IG2 zone a bit farther from Port operations,” said Port of Seattle spokesman Jason Kelly.

Growing operations also would be allowed in some commercial zones, but entrepreneurs have said those areas generally don’t offer the space needed or would run afoul of state law requiring 1,000-foot buffers between pot businesses and venues frequented by youth.

The new rules do not ban medical-marijuana dispensaries, Licata said. They require the approximately 200 dispensaries now in Seattle to have state licenses by 2015 to remain legal within the city limits.

No such license now exists. Entrepreneur Alex Cooley called that unfair.

State lawmakers are expected to take up the largely unregulated, untaxed medical system next year. Former Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a bill in 2011 that would have put the medical system under tight rules, saying she didn’t want state employees at risk of federal criminal charges.

The proposed city rules would bar growing operations in residential, historic and small neighborhood commercial areas.

But the rules, in mirroring medical-marijuana regulations, would permit growing as many as 45 pot plants in homes throughout the city.

The medical system allows patients to form marijuana collectives and grow as many as 45 plants. The state’s new recreational system does not allow home cultivation.

The city’s home-growing rules could undercut the state system, which expects retail stores to open next summer. City officials have said it would be up to the state to enforce its rules against recreational home-growing in Seattle.

In letters to the council, neighborhood and drug-prevention groups said city rules could be more restrictive, particularly in areas such as Rainier Avenue South and Aurora Avenue North that now have a concentration of medical-marijuana dispensaries.

But no representatives from the groups showed up to testify.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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