Pierce County Council bans pot businesses until Congress takes it off list

Member Jim McCune says county has no right to overrule federal law; executive must now act

Staff writerNovember 6, 2013 

The Pierce County Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday night that prohibits licensed marijuana businesses from operating in the county until the U.S. Congress removes marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances.

Opponents, including council members Rick Talbert and Connie Ladenburg, called the measure a ban.

Sponsor Stan Flemming said it isn’t. “I want to make it really clear this is not an outright ban,” said Flemming, R-Gig Harbor. “This bill does follow state law and addresses the concerns of the people.”

The ordinance sets up zoning of marijuana operations, including production and processing, but it limits retail outlets to urban areas.

Keith Henson, a marijuana reform proponent, said the council has a duty to follow state law. He called the council’s action “incredible” and said the ordinance is sure to be challenged in court.

After 31/2 hours of impassioned debate from the public and the elected leaders, the council narrowly approved the measure.

On its agenda Tuesday, the council was presented with four options regulating recreational marijuana businesses. They were:

  • A complete ban on marijuana processing, production and retail sales. It failed by a 4-3 vote.
  • A proposal establishing zoning that restricts where licensed marijuana businesses could locate. The council defeated it by a 5-2 vote.
  • A five-month extension of the current moratorium. The council postponed that proposal indefinitely after it adopted the ordinance by a vote of 4-3.

Voting for the ordinance that was approved were Flemming; Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup; Jim McCune, R-Graham; and Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake. Voting against it were Ladenburg and Talbert, both Tacoma Democrats, and Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood.

Last November, Washington voters approved Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

In July, the council approved a temporary ban and set up a committee to recommend zoning rules.

Regardless of Pierce County’s action, the state Liquor Control Board says it will start issuing licenses for marijuana businesses sometime in March. The Liquor Board says there’s nothing in I-502 that allows for a ban. It’s not clear how the state board will respond to Pierce County’s condition that marijuana be dropped as a controlled substance.

Council attorney Susan Long said the county could cite and shut down marijuana businesses that violate county code.

Councilman McCune proposed the amendment requiring the removal of marijuana from the government’s list of controlled substances before marijuana-licensed businesses would be permitted to operate.

“We don’t have the right to overrule federal law,” McCune said.

More than 60 people packed the council chambers at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. The ban proposed by McDonald and McCune generated the most public comment and was the first measure considered.

Many spoke out against a ban and said it was the county’s responsibility to uphold the will of the voters. They also said that a ban hasn’t worked in the past.

Some stressed the need to protect neighborhoods from unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Cyndi Hoenhous of South Hill said her neighborhood needs help dealing with marijuana businesses. She said she lives within walking distance of several marijuana operations.

But Bea Christophersen said that even with state licenses, marijuana will be an “unenforceable joke.” She said there will be no control of marijuana until the federal government takes action.

The next step for the council’s ordinance is up to county Executive Pat McCarthy. After she receives the measure from the council, she has 10 working days to sign it. The ordinance would go into effect 10 days after she signs it. She also could veto the ordinance, which the council could override with five votes.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
steve.maynard@thenewstribune.com
@TNTstevemaynard

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