Gateway: News

Gig Harbor finally says no to retail pot

Just like that, it was all over, and the red-clad audience that turned out to petition for a marijuana ban breathed a sigh of relief.

The Gig Harbor City Council voted at its Monday night meeting to ban marijuana uses in the city, including retail stores. The standing room only crowd — which included many from the Gig Harbor North area — wore red to support the ban.

The decision was not unanimous, with Steve Ekberg and Ken Malich dissenting in the 5-2 vote. Ekberg was adamant that the issue was a matter of zoning, and did not have to do with the image of Gig Harbor.

Overall, it was an emotional night, which was to be expected. The council has been dealing with the question of how to implement Initiative 502 in the city for more than a year. In the 2012 election, a majority of Gig Harbor’s voters voted to approve I-502.

Retail licenseholder Tedd Wetherbee chided the council Tuesday morning for ignoring the vote.

“(The ban) violates every aspect of the will of the people,” he said.

Wetherbee felt the council was manipulated by a motivated group of ban-supporters — not the overall interests of Gig Harbor citizens.

“If you put enough people in the room, that’s what the City Council does,” he said.

Wetherbee filed a tort claim against the city for $3.5 million in damages last September; that is still pending.

Notably, council member Michael Perrow voted for the ban. Perrow spent time with city planners working on amendments to the ordinance the city’s planning commission put forward. The ordinance allowed for marijuana uses with buffers in place.

In the end, he voted for the ban “because this solution just doesn’t work.”

Perrow elaborated on his decision Tuesday morning, saying that he appreciated the work of the city planning department, which worked on the definitions in the ordinance and then mapped out the city.

“After the (amendment process) was done, we looked up at the map and saw what areas didn’t have buffers,” he said. “I didn’t imagine it would be so isolated.”

Last September, the council called a timeout on the processing, manufacturing and sales of marijuana for 12 months. That decision was about to expire, effectively forcing the council’s hand, because a rolling moratorium was not an option.

Perrow’s amendments were the subject of a public hearing, but the ban was not. However, many who spoke asked for a ban. A few said the ban was the safest decision rather than a list of buffers that may come across as convoluted. Many who turned up said they lived near Burnham Drive and felt the list of buffers would single their neighborhood out.

Sarah Sexton, who spoke at several hearings throughout the marijuana process, questioned why the council would regulate the retail marijuana stores, effectively pushing them out of the center of town.

“If it’s right for the city, why is it way on the outskirts?” Sexton asked.

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155