The meeting was short and the discussion minimal, but the tension on the dais was palpable Monday as three members of the Pierce County Council discussed a proposed countywide ban on marijuana.
Ultimately the three-member rules and operations committee voted 2-1 to include a requirement that the ban be reviewed by the county planning commission before returning to the County Council for a final vote.
The move, if accepted by the full council Tuesday (June 14), is virtually certain to prolong the process long enough to allow licensed marijuana businesses to open legally in Pierce County.
Councilwoman Joyce McDonald was the dissenting vote Monday.
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The Puyallup Republican proposed the ban on pot businesses. She called the deferral to the planning commission a “delay tactic.”
Everybody knew I wanted an ordinance, and I am very disappointed one was not drawn up.
Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup
“I believe the people have spoken on the matter,” McDonald said referring to an April 26 advisory vote in which 52 percent of voters in unincorporated Pierce County said they don’t want marijuana businesses in their communities.
Councilman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said the election results aren’t that easy to interpret.
“In some districts they voted not to have the marijuana (businesses), but in some districts they voted to have it,” Roach said. “The fact that it is controversial, I think it is important that we do go through the process.”
Council Chairman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, proposed the planning commission review. It is necessary because the proposed ban repeals existing regulations and makes changes to zoning, he said.
The ban proposes eliminating the majority of current code that regulates marijuana operations and replacing it with a statement that all marijuana businesses are illegal.
McDonald said there was no need for additional public process because that requirement was met when approximately 65,000 people cast ballots in April.
The fact that it is controversial, I think it is important that we do go through the process.
Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake
“It’s just unfortunate that the people are not being served,” she said.
McDonald said a misunderstanding by county staff was to blame for the late filing of the ordinance, less than a month before the county’s de facto ban lifts July 1. The de facto ban permits pot businesses if federal law on the drug changes.
“I reported to our staff at the County Council that as soon as this election had been certified I would like an ordinance drawn up,” she said. “Staff did not hear that very well and were discussing with the (council) chair how to move forward.
“Everybody knew I wanted an ordinance, and I am very disappointed one was not drawn up.”
Five businesses have already applied for permits and go before the county hearing examiner July 6. If the examiner approves the applications, the businesses will be allowed to open.