Fife council votes to bar pot businesses

Staff writerJuly 8, 2014 

Washington state’s first recreational marijuana stores opened to much fanfare on Tuesday, but neither that nor the threat of litigation stopped Fife from formalizing its outright ban on the new businesses.

The Fife City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to prohibit all pot retailers, producers or processors from operating within the city limits.

Mayor Tim Curtis and council members Pat Hulcey, Lew Wolfrom, Barry Johnson and Rob Cerqui favored the ban, while council members Winston Marsh and Bryan Yambe opposed it.

The action comes a day after a prospective pot retailer threatened to sue the city over the ban.

Tedd Wetherbee – who’s secured two lottery slots for retail licenses and intends to open pot stores in Gig Harbor and Fife – told The News Tribune that a letter sent to the city Monday warned that “the moment (council members) pass this ban we will file this suit.”

The letter obtained by The News Tribune included a draft of the impending complaint, which states the city’s ordinance is inconsistent with state law and wrongfully blocks Wetherbee’s legal business.

Council supporters of the ban didn’t speak at the meeting, but they had previously cited uneasiness about the new legal territory and frustration with a lack of financial benefits. Many said it was unfair that the city would receive no tax revenue from the state-regulated industry.

Yambe and Marsh reiterated their previous concerns, stressing that they don’t necessarily support legalization personally, but they have a duty to represent the people.

“Sometimes we have to put our personal opinions aside and act on behalf of the city,” Marsh said.

The council’s decision ignored a planning commission proposal that favored allowing pot businesses but restricting them to certain parts of the city.

A handful of advocates and opponents of recreational marijuana spoke ahead of the council’s vote Tuesday night.

Jim Eddy from the Washington State Marijuana League, an advocacy group, urged the council to reconsider its stance.

He said pot sales and consumption won’t stop, regardless of a city ban. He called Washington state a “laboratory” for progress on the issue, and said that prohibiting the new businesses ignores voters and rewards illegal cartels.

“Marijuana is here. It’s in your community right now,” Eddy said, adding that adopting prohibition “didn’t work before and won’t work now.”

Fife resident Carol Sue Braaten said she is concerned about how pot sales would affect the youth in the nearby Puyallup Tribe. She added that “a mere 53 percent” of voters supported I-502, not the entire community.

The letter drafted by Wetherbee’s attorney Mark Nelson states that the city’s ordinance “unlawfully conflicts with State law and it an unconstitutional exercise of the city’s legislative authority.” It adds that the voter-approved Initiative 502 “as codified does not grant cities or counties authority to opt out of or ban legal marijuana uses in their respective jurisdictions.”

Nelson also wrote that the city’s intent to “rest heavily” on state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s opinion on I-502 is “misplaced.”

Ferguson said earlier this year that I-502 doesn’t prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses. That spurred many local jurisdictions to pursue moratoriums, bans and other strict rules on pot operations.

“It was never the intent of I-502 to give localities the express or implied police power to undermine the statewide approach necessary to tackle … distribution of legal marijuana and the illegal marijuana trade,” Nelson said in his letter. “Nor was it the intent of our legislature that a given city council could override the will of the citizens of Washington State.”

Wetherbee has faced similar resistance in his effort to open a retail location in Gig Harbor, where the City Council recently approved a six-month moratorium intended to give city staff time to address concerns about retailers’ proximity to school programs. A decision hasn’t been made on how to proceed.

Wetherbee told The News Tribune that he’s also prepared to legally challenge Gig Harbor if necessary.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog

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