Local officials must plan for marijuana sales

Moratoriums in the county and College Place can’t be permanent. Planning for pot sales has to occur.

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Recreational use of marijuana is now legal (or, at least, kinda legal) in Washington state. Voters last November gave the green light to growing, selling and smoking pot.

And that means all of Washington state. Local governments can’t opt out.

Yet, a least a few local officials around the state seem to be angling to keep legal marijuana sales out of their counties or cities.

For example, Walla Walla County Commissioner Perry Dozier said at a recent hearing on the subject he is struggling with the issue of providing public access to marijuana while simultaneously taxing people to fund substance abuse treatment for problems it might cause.

“It seems like an oxymoron to me,” he said. “We need to have a substantial discussion before we create a situation” that will affect people, especially young people.

Other elected officials have pointed to the lack of support for Initiative 502 by local voters.

Concerns are understandable. We, too, had concerns. We urged voters to reject legalizing marijuana. We didn’t see recreational marijuana as a positive.

But since the voters did approve I-502 it’s the law. Political and personal views by elected officials or citizens on pot use are no longer relevant.

Last week Walla Walla County commissioners approved a one-year moratorium on adopting regulations to grow, process or sell pot. Earlier the College Place City Council took the same action.

The moratoriums make sense given the Liquor Control Board has yet to approve details for implementing the new law. With no clear state expectations, city and county governments have been frustrated in trying to establish rules to govern where marijuana operations will be located and how to issue permits to growers and sellers.

Local governments, however, will eventually have to put rules in place.

Brian E. Smith, director of communications for the LCB, said there is nothing in I-502 that allows a community or jurisdiction to opt out. The new marijuana law in Colorado, however, does.

The moratoriums in Washington state, he said, simply allow some breathing room in the transitions from rule-making to implementation.

An outright ban on the growing, selling and using of marijuana might be problematic, Smith said.

The LCB will issues a set number of licenses in the state’s cities and counties to the applicants who meet the requirements. But, he said, if license holders can’t operate due to a ban, there would be a risk of litigation at the local level.

Beyond that, I-502 calls for the Liquor Control Board to minimize the illicit pot market.

“To do so,” Smith said, “consumers will need reasonable access to product.”

Just saying “no” is not an option. Local government officials in Walla Walla County should use the cushion provided by the moratorium to create rules governing marijuana operations that will work for this community.

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