Puyallup continues to take time deciding how – if at all – to allow pot businesses

Despite taking two separate votes Tuesday night related to recreational marijuana, it’s still unclear how the Puyallup City Council will regulate pot businesses in Pierce County’s third-largest city.

One thing is clear: Puyallup’s elected leaders don’t want to be trailblazers in a new industry that other governments in East Pierce County have prohibited.

Mayor John Knutsen said he doesn’t want to be “out front” implementing state Initiative 502, the state ballot measure that voters approved nearly two years ago. It created a regulatory system for the production, processing and sale of recreational marijuana.

“This is one of those incidents I’d prefer to be at the end of the line, not leading,” Knutsen said.

Puyallup is still waiting in line after City Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to extend a marijuana moratorium through Dec. 31. It had been set to expire Sept. 30.

That gives city staff more time to work through questions and concerns related to a draft ordinance the council also voted on Tuesday.

The council discussed and unanimously supported a proposal that would allow recreational marijuana businesses with a long list of restrictions. Much work remains before council members will be ready to issue a definite yes or no on changing city code.

If they ultimately allow pot businesses, all council members agreed strict limits should be instituted on where they can open.

The overall approach is similar to that of Gig Harbor, where the City Council first voted for a moratorium in April and has yet to decide how to regulate pot businesses. Gig Harbor officials are taking their time to look into establishing marijuana-free buffers around two nontraditional school sites and parks. The council there is preparing to vote on a 12-month moratorium extension.

The Puyallup City Council’s primary concerns Tuesday included proposed buffers around the Riverwalk Trail, Pierce Community College, religious gathering places and the Washington State Fairgrounds. Discussion also addressed whether to allow the extraction of hemp oil within city limits.

The City Council also requested that staff draft explicit language related to signs and advertising for marijuana businesses in Puyallup.

“Do we want a big pot leaf to be allowed?” Councilman John Palmer asked.

Many on the council also expressed concern that if zoning changes are approved, Puyallup would be one of the only cities in East Pierce County to allow marijuana shops. The state has allocated two retail licenses for Puyallup; there’s no limit on producers or processors.

Councilman Steve Vermillion said Puyallup could become a “marijuana focal point” because jurisdictions including Sumner, Fife and Pierce County have prohibited such operations.

Fellow council member Heather Shadko stressed that she didn’t want to see Puyallup become “pot central.”

She added that time limits on hours of operation should also be considered.

“I would really like to see a time restriction that these shops aren’t opened past 9 o’clock,” Shadko said.

Councilman Tom Swanson agreed.

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” he said.

Swanson was adamant that he wouldn’t support “dangerous extraction” of hash oil within city limits, primarily because the technology is so new and there are few state officials familiar with it.

“They cannot guarantee they’ll have experts that know what they’re looking at,” he said of the state Liquor Control Board.

Puyallup residents had a front-row seat to the dangers of hash oil extraction in May, when several butane canisters exploded and scattered debris at a rented house in the 1500 block of Shaw Road East. Federal prosecutors later charged two Pierce County men in connection with the incident.

Deputy city attorney Steve Kirkelie said staff could tentatively plan to bring an updated marijuana ordinance before the council by October or early November.

Prior to Tuesday’s votes, resident Merv Swanson expressed frustration with the council’s drawn-out approach. He said the city has missed out on sales tax revenue from pot businesses.

“What are you going to do to make up that loss on revenue?” Swanson asked.

Another resident, however, was displeased that an “outright ban” hasn’t been discussed in much detail.

“Keep it out of this area completely,” said Ralph Wuscher.