Council passes pot moratorium
Cheney’s emergency measure deals only with land use and zoning considerations surrounding legalization of marijuana
By JOHN McCALLUM
Fearing what city attorney Nathan Smith termed as “unintended consequences” from the recent legalization of marijuana by state voters the Cheney City Council unanimously passed a six-month emergency moratorium at its Tuesday meeting regarding land use considerations revolving around production, processing or retailing of the drug and products associated with its use in the city.
The moratorium allows the city to put off review and consideration of the “filing, acceptance and processing of applications for new marijuana production, processing and retailing locations” along with products or paraphernalia and equipment associated with its production, processing and use. The moratorium sets up a 60-day clock for holding a public hearing to take testimony on how these locations should be sited in the city.
“What we’re trying to do is stop everything so the city can figure out how we’re going to deal with this,” Smith told the council.
The moratorium deals only with land use and zoning considerations, Smith added, and doesn’t address any measure law enforcement may take to deal with a drug that while still illegal in most states and federally is now legal for recreational use in Washington.
Initiative 502 passed last week with 55.48 percent of the vote statewide. The new law decriminalizes recreational marijuana use for persons 21 and older, and establishes a process for the creation of statutes governing its usage and for generating revenue from its production and sale.
As one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use – Colorado passed a similar initiative Nov. 6 – Washington had very little in terms of examples of how to set up a system for use and revenue generation. The initiative allows the state Liquor Control Board to set up regulations and taxing and fee structures for marijuana as it currently does with alcohol.
Smith noted that the initiative did establish some land use guidelines, prohibiting establishments engaging in marijuana business from locating within 1,000 feet of sensitive areas such as schools, daycare centers, parks and other uses. But outside of that, little is known about other aspects of how a new industry would operate and locate.
“This will give the city a chance to take a breath,” Smith said.
City Administrator Arlene Fisher said not enough is known about how the state and federal government will approach the new law, and that the “lack of regulatory framework” is the main driving force behind the moratorium.
“We’ve got to know what that is and where we’re going,” Mayor Tom Trulove said.
Several council members expressed concerns over the length of the moratorium, which both Smith and Fisher said could be shortened by council resolution should more information become available soon. According to the state Voter’s Guide, while decriminalization of marijuana possession takes effect Dec. 6, there “is no date certain for implementation of the licensing and taxation portions of the initiative.”
An assumed implementation date of Dec. 1, 2013 is an estimate only.
Trulove stressed that the moratorium was not a desire on the city’s part to supplant the wishes of the people, but a “need to know more.” Councilwoman Teresa Overhauser noted that I-502 received a majority yes vote in Cheney.
“I’m just pointing out that every precinct voted yes,” she said.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.