No 'do over' for marijuana ordinance
Cheney council proceeds with process adopting interim zoning codes for production, processing and retail facilities
A recent opinion from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office provided the Cheney City Council a chance to enact what city attorney Stanley Schwartz termed a “do over” regarding its interim marijuana production facility zoning ordinance.
Instead, at a special council meeting Monday night in front of a standing room only chamber audience that overflowed into the hallways the council decided to stay the course and proceed with the process that could turn Ordinance W-18 into city law.
The special meeting was called because of a Jan. 16 opinion from Attorney General Bob Ferguson stating language in Initiative 502 legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state did not preclude cities and counties from banning facilities that produce, process or retail the drug. The initiative passed with 55.7 percent yes vote statewide, and in Cheney as well, but several Washington cities have instituted bans on facilities that wish to locate in their jurisdictions, and the state Liquor Control Board – which is in charge of approving facility applications and making marijuana industry rules – asked Ferguson’s office if they had the right to do so.
Cheney’s council was given three options at Monday’s meeting: Take no action and leave the ordinance approval process in place, modify the ordinance or repeal the ordinance and institute a second moratorium on applications from marijuana facilities. The first moratorium was enacted by the city soon after voters approved 502.
Mayor Tom Trulove said the meeting would also provide the council new policy guidance given the recent AG ruling as well as taking additional public comment regarding the ordinance. One thing that could not be considered was banning marijuana use completely – something several members of the audience who spoke called for the city to do.
“There will be recreational use of marijuana under the laws of Washington in Cheney,” Trulove said. “We don’t get to decide that.”
Schwartz said the AG’s opinion came as somewhat of a surprise to those in the legal community following the Liquor Control Board marijuana proceedings. It’s an opinion that will likely end up in the courts at some point, and Trulove noted that there are seven bills in the Legislature that will address issues surrounding marijuana from allowing the state to supersede local siting laws to prohibiting jurisdictions that banned marijuana facilities from receiving state revenues derived from marijuana taxes.
Schwartz also told the council and audience that the lone applicant for a marijuana production and processing facility, Cheney Hydroponics, was essentially “grandfathered” into the siting process via a what he called “vested rights.” Cheney Hydroponics submitted their application with the city Planning Department Dec. 10, 2012, and as such will be allowed to build its facility pending approval by a local hearing examiner and the City Council’s agreement to sell land in the Commerce and Industrial Park.
The hearing examiner’s decision is expected sometime this week.
Public comment given during the special meeting was pretty well split between those who wanted the council to either ban marijuana facilities or at least make it difficult for them to locate in the city, and those who voted for 502 and want to see the new industry provide jobs and tax revenue for Cheney.
“Modifying or repealing is like taking our vote away from us,” Bonnie Eccles said. “The law has passed. Let’s make it happen the best way possible.”
Several Cheney School District employees, including Superintendent Dr. Debra Clemmons and Cheney Middle School Principal Mike Stark, told the council of problems they have encountered with the legalization of medical marijuana, including increased access among students from adults who don’t properly store the drug. Others based their arguments on outright opposition to its legalization, noting studies have shown that marijuana can cause harmful physical and mental effects on those who use the drug.
Some who spoke in favor noted that alcohol can have similar effects if misused or used to excess. Cheney resident Tanya Bailey noted that a National Health Organization study indicated that recreational use of marijuana was no more harmful than similar use of alcohol.
“So I wonder if we would be having this discussion if a brewery were opening in town,” Bailey asked.
Six of the seven council members expressed a desire to take no action on Ordinance W-18 and let the approval process continue, which included a public hearing at Tuesday night’s council meeting. Only Councilwoman Jill Weiszmann said she would like to see the ordinance repealed and a moratorium put in place while aspects of legalization are worked out in the Legislature.
Councilwoman Teresa Overhauser also noted that the federal government – who still views marijuana as illegal – is taking steps to relax banking restrictions on monies made by legal marijuana businesses. She also said other states are considering their own efforts in legalizing the drug for recreational and medicinal use.
“It points to the fact we are on the edge and we are making decisions that others are struggling to make decisions on,” she said. “All across this country, this is coming. I don’t believe we can back away from what our citizens indicated by a majority vote 18 months ago.”
To read city of Cheney interim zoning ordinance W-18 click on the following link: http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=14910&stateId=47&stateName=Washington
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.