City Council divided as marijuana moratorium deadline draws near

April 22, 2014

By Peter Clark

Marijuana was the sole agenda item at the April 14 Issaquah City Council work session as the administration gave an updated presentation to the council.

Through the state’s definition of business rules and an ultimate lack of response from this year’s legislative session, the council has maintained a reflective stance on the future of recreational marijuana.

The council established a six-month moratorium in September and extended it again in February, as it explored how the city should extend the state’s base regulations or consider banning marijuana business practices all together.

“We were hoping for some clarity out of the state Legislature,” Councilman Tola Marts said as the reason for the continued moratorium.

After the April 14 presentation, council members began taking sides on the issue. After first requesting a summary of the state’s rules, newest council member Nina Milligan expressed her hesitance in bringing marijuana businesses into the city.

“I’m going to be bold and put my cards out on the table,” she said. “I have never been in favor of us licensing for producers or retailers.”

She said the business regulation models laid out by the state do not yet seem to answer all her concerns.

“To compare alcohol and cigarettes to this marketplace doesn’t convince me,” Milligan said. “I am currently wishing we had a ban. Not forever, but until this marketplace matures.”

Councilwoman Stacy Goodman also voiced hesitation about allowing recreational marijuana businesses, but the other present council members sounded off against a ban.

“I’m not in favor of a ban,” Councilwoman Mary Lou Pauly said. “The whole thing that I’m waiting to hear is what our little neighborhood of cities does.”

Council members Joshua Schaer and Eileen Barber did not attend.

“The questions we are looking at here are whether to enact a full ban or not,” City Associate Planner Jason Rogers said. “If you don’t want to do a full ban, then you have a couple of choices: adopt the regulations as proposed by the administration, modify the proposed regulations or do not adopt specific regulations.”

He once again laid out what the administration proposed as the best addition to the state’s regulations. Namely, a heightened level of permitting, which would require neighbor notification for everyone within 300 feet. It also calls for businesses to operate entirely indoors, higher security specifications, a ban on home businesses, and a separation of recreational and medical marijuana establishments.

Rogers confirmed for the council that any guidance it had hoped to gain from the Legislature would most likely not come in 2014.

New Police Chief Scott Behrbaum also attended to give insights to questions about public safety concerns. He mostly asked for direction from the court with how the department should handle public marijuana usage.

“I believe that we would need to take a look at our municipal code to provide us an opportunity for addressing public consumption of marijuana,” he said.

Behrbaum expected the state Liquor Control Board to lead enforcement on business sales.

“We would anticipate supplementing their efforts. That’s how we work with them currently in alcohol retail,” he said.

Council members said they have received many letters from the public about the issue, but only one person came to the work session and spoke.

“I’d like to see a ban permanently here in Issaquah,” resident Steve Carrera said. “It’s our duty as citizens to support the thing we care for, and I think it’s a cheap thing to say we’re going to raise revenue by growing and selling marijuana. Let’s use this as a way to say Issaquah is different.”

The state’s Liquor Control Board began to issues business licenses last month and will continue through a lottery system. During the monthlong open window for license applications begun in December, 19 applicants in Issaquah sought retail licenses and two sought producer/processor licenses.

The state currently limits the city to one retail location. It set no limit on the number of producers or processors, instead capping the amount of statewide marijuana production at 40 metric tons for the year.

The work session proved enlightening to council members as the continued conversation creeps closer to a decision.

“I thought this evening was going to be more difficult for me,” Marts said. “There has to be a compelling reason if you’re going to limit personal liberty. It’s clear that public safety concerns that I have are extremely unlikely to come to bear and in the absence of that, I come away from this information much more comfortable.”

The matter will next go to the May 13 Council Land & Shore Committee meeting, at 6 p.m. at 135 E. Sunset Way in Council Chambers, where the public will once again have an opportunity to give input.




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