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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Community-level policy responses to state marijuana legalization in Washington State

Julia A Dilley, Laura Hitchcock, Nancy McGroder, Lindsey A Greto, Susan M Richardson
International Journal on Drug Policy 2017, 42: 102-108
28365192

BACKGROUND: Washington State (WA) legalized a recreational marijuana market - including growing, processing and retail sales - through voter initiative 502 in November 2012. Legalized recreational marijuana retail sales began in July 2014. In response to state legalization of recreational marijuana, some cities and counties within the state have passed local ordinances that either further regulated marijuana markets, or banned them completely. The purpose of this study is to describe local-level marijuana regulations on recreational retail sales within the context of a state that had legalized a recreational marijuana market.

METHODS: Marijuana-related ordinances were collected from all 142 cities in the state with more than 3000 residents and from all 39 counties. Policies that were in place as of June 30, 2016 - two years after the state's recreational market opening - to regulate recreational marijuana retail sales within communities were systematically coded.

RESULTS: A total of 125 cities and 30 counties had passed local ordinances to address recreational marijuana retail sales. Multiple communities implemented retail market bans, including some temporary bans (moratoria) while studying whether to pursue other policy options. As of June 30, 2016, 30% of the state population lived in places that had temporarily or permanently banned retail sales. Communities most frequently enacted zoning policies explicitly regulating where marijuana businesses could be established. Other policies included in ordinances placed limits on business hours and distance requirements (buffers) between marijuana businesses and youth-related land use types or other sensitive areas.

CONCLUSIONS: State legalization does not necessarily result in uniform community environments that regulate recreational marijuana markets. Local ordinances vary among communities within Washington following statewide legalization. Further study is needed to describe how such local policies affect variation in public health and social outcomes.

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