COLLEGE PLACE — The city of College Place began moving Monday to join other Eastern Washington municipalities in putting a hold on marijuana operations.
The City Council voted unanimously to have staff draw up an ordinance to place a moratorium on zoning regulations and permits for marijuana growing, processing and retail operations.
Following are facts about I-502 and updates on what local communities are doing to implement related ordinances governing recreational marijuana.
• Initiative 502 legalized marijuana production, distribution and possession for recreational use in Washington state. It does not address medical marijuana.
• The Washington State Liquor Control Board is charged with licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana producers, processors and retailers. All funds from marijuana excise taxes will be deposited in the Dedicated Marijuana Fund.
• The Liquor Control Coard has no authority to dictate to local governments zoning requirements for marijuana growing, processing, distribution or sales. Municipalities could conceivably zone marijuana-related businesses out of their geographical area.
• Under proposed rules, Walla Walla County will be eligible for a total of four retail pot outlets. Two in the city of Walla Walla and two “at large” meaning they could be located in an unincorporated area or in another community other than Walla Walla. Columbia and Garfield counties are eligible for one “at large” store apiece.
• At present, the city of Waitsburg is the only municipality in Walla Walla County that has approved a moratorium on local ordinances for marijuana. The College Place City Council Monday directed staff to draft an ordinance to enact a moratorium in that city.
• Walla Walla County has continued a hearing on a possible moratorium until Sept. 16. The cities of Walla Walla, Prescott and Dayton have taken no action on the issue at this time.
• Columbia County will hold a public hearing on a moratorium at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Garfield County has taken no action at this time, but the county Sheriff, Prosecuting Attorney and county commissioners have been discussing the issue.
(Sources: Washington State Liquor Control Board, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)
College Place is the latest city to grapple with the ramifications of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana in Washington state. Although the Washington State Liquor Board will be in charge of regulating and licensing pot growers, processors and retailers, cities and counties must deal with how to draw up local zoning and permitting ordinances for those operations.
While some areas, such as Seattle, are moving ahead to permit marijuana operations, other cities and counties are holding back due to concerns over potential federal prosecution and other legal issues.
During discussion, College Place Mayor Rick Newby said the city would like to partner with Walla Walla County, which is also considering a moratorium, to provide consistency between any city and county ordinances on the issue.
A moratorium would also give the city breathing room to see how implementation of Initiative 502 works out, Newby said.
“Obviously we need time to get a handle on the state rules and avoid conflicts,” he said.
In response to a question from Councilman Larry Dickerson, Newby said the trend around Eastern Washington has been toward moratoriums as opposed to going ahead with permitting.
Dickerson also asked if there has been any interest in permits from residents.
“None that we are aware of,” Newby answered.
However, interest in starting up marijuana operations has been expressed in other locations.
The fact that marijuana is still an illegal drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act is also prompting governments to take a wait-and-see attitude.
“This is what has everyone upset,” City Attorney Charles Phillips remarked. Although the Obama administration has indicated it won’t move against Washington now, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen in the future.
“Things are really in a state of flux right now ... but I find it disconcerting they are not enforcing the law,” said Phillips. The federal statutes are still on the books and unless Congress repeals them “they’re putting all you people on the hook.”
Newby said potential court challenges over the legality of Initiative 502 and related issues are also unanswered questions.
“These cases haven’t been decided in a federal court yet,” he said. “I do know this is going to cost a lot of communities a lot of money over the next few years.”
The conflicts between state and federal law were also the subject Monday as Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson submitted joint testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on that topic.
In their testimony, Inslee and Ferguson thanked President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for their recent guidance on federal enforcement priorities and outlined how the state plans to address those priorities.
According to a release from the governor’s office, they also drew attention to the complex banking issues facing the state as a result of federal banking laws and requested additional federal support for legislation allowing banks to accept deposits from legitimate marijuana businesses comply with state law.
Initiative 502 Timeline
Nov. 6, 2012 — Washington voters approve Initiative 502 to decriminalize marijuana possession and use for recreational purposes. Colorado voters approve Amendment 64, which is similar.
Dec. 6, 2012 — Initiative 502 goes into effect.
August 29 — In response to the Washington and Colorado initiatives, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issues memorandum setting guidelines for federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act.
October 9 — Washington State Liquor Control Board to hold public hearing on proposed rules for growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana.
October 16 — Board scheduled to adopt proposed rules.
November 16 — WSLCB to begin accepting applications for producer, processor and retail licenses.
December 1 — Deadline for the WSLCB to establish rules. Board will also begin issuing producer, processor and retail licenses to qualified applicants.
(Sources: Washington State Liquor Control Board)