Thursday, January 23, 2014
WALLA WALLA — “We could have wine, wheat and weed here in Walla Walla,” was just one of the prevailing sentiments voiced before a big City Council win for local pot shop supporters.
“And the advantage here is if you get in on the ground floor you provide the rest of the state with that product,” Alden Foote of Walla Walla commented to Council members, who voted 4-3 against a marijuana moratorium at their Wednesday night meeting.
Had the moratorium passed, all commercial producing, processing and retailing of pot would have been off limits in city limits for one year until a permanent ban could be considered.
But it became clear Wednesday night that the moratorium, as well as any future ban, lacked a majority of Council support, with members Barbara Clark, Mary Lou Jenkins, Dick Morgan and Allen Pomraning voting against it.
“This is not a vote on whether to have a pot industry. This pot industry already exits,” Pomraning said, noting that some statistics project the state could see as much as $1 billion a year in legal marijuana sales.
“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. And I don’t smoke pot. I don’t believe in it, but this is a business decision and it is already here,” he added.
Council members Mayor Jerry Cummins, Jim Barrow and Chris Plucker voted for the moratorium.
They argued that allowing commercial marijuana businesses would send the wrong message to children and lead to more crime and drug problems. They added that the majority of county voters were against Initiative 502, which legalized recreational pot use in Washington and established the right to operate commercial marijuana growing, processing and sales businesses.
“I think making marijuana more readily available is a bad idea,” Barrow said. “Most of our citizens, by a majority of 55 percent, at least in the county, did not think it was a good idea.”
About 20 people attended the City Council meeting, with five commenting in favor of the moratorium and seven against it.
Last October when Council thought it had no recourse to legal ban marijuana businesses, it approved several zoning regulations to guide the placement of those future businesses.
Last week, however, the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced in an opinion that nothing in Initiative 502 prevented cities and counties from banning commercial marijuana operations.
But an all-out ban would take months to initiate, Walla Walla City Attorney Tim Donaldson said Wednesday.
With 20 applicants currently hoping for state operating licenses to set up pot businesses in Walla Walla, Donaldson said he felt he needed to give the Council the option of a moratorium, especially after Ferguson’s opinion.
Of the 20 applications, 11 are for growing and processing operations and nine are for retail sales. Under state Liquor Control Board rules, there is no limit on the number of growing and processing operations a jurisdiction can have, but Walla Walla is limited to only two sales outlets.
“We know that all these applications for licenses are pending,” Donaldson said. “Even if you went afterward to ban such facilities, if you wanted to do that, the ones who were vested would have a right to proceed forward and locate anyway.”
Donaldson added that there is still a level uncertainty if any ban will be allowed, noting that there are two competing bills now before the Legislature, one to uphold city and county rights to ban recreational pot businesses and the other to prohibit local jurisdictions from doing so.
Adding more uncertainty to the matter, Donaldson said, in February a Court of Appeals will decide whether cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana businesses.
“I can't stand here today and tell you for certainty what the law is going to be eight weeks from now, whether cities can adopt bans or not adopt bans,” Donaldson said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.