Marijuana

Two marijuana retailers opening soon in city that still bans cannabis sales

Tedd Wetherbee,in front a billboard in April 2016 he bought in an attempt to defeat an advisory vote on legal marijuana sales in Pierce County, plans to add his to his pot shop empire by opening a store in Fife following the settlement of his lawsuit against that city.
Tedd Wetherbee,in front a billboard in April 2016 he bought in an attempt to defeat an advisory vote on legal marijuana sales in Pierce County, plans to add his to his pot shop empire by opening a store in Fife following the settlement of his lawsuit against that city. dperine@thenewstribune.com

Fife, a city that formally bans sales of marijuana within its city limits, will see two pot retailers opening for business soon at the town’s major crossroads.

Though the city ordinance that prohibits retail cannabis sales remains in effect, both marijuana retailers will be operating legally.

The two pot shops, one privately owned and the other operated by the Puyallup Tribe, aren’t affected by the city’s ban. The tribal operation, in a former cigar bar at Pacific Highway East and 54th Avenue East, is on tribal land and isn’t governed by the city’s rules.

The other store, to be located in a former drugstore at 5303 Pacific Highway E. within sight of the tribal shop, is exempt from the city’s ban because of an out-of-court lawsuit settlement reached last fall between the pot store owner and Fife.

Tedd Wetherbee, the private shop’s proprietor, won an exemption from the city’s pot ban in a legal settlement with Fife. The city and Wetherbee had fought in court since 2014 over whether Fife had the authority to ban retail marijuana sales. Fife won its case at the Superior Court level, but Wetherbee appealed that decision. The appeals court hadn’t announced its decision before Fife and Wetherbee reached agreement.

Under that settlement, Wetherbee is allowed to operate his pot shop as a “non-conforming use” in exchange for paying $35,000 toward the city’s legal fees.

Fife City Manager Subir Mukerjee said the city’s decision to settle was based on several factors. The lawsuit was becoming increasingly expensive. Plus the tribe already planned to open a cannabis retail store, and other cities’ experience with pot retailers had shown they aren’t the crime magnet that some people had predicted.

Mayor Winston Marsh said the council has asked the city’s planning commission to take a second look at the city’s marijuana ban and to draft rules for the council’s consideration to govern other marijuana retailers. The council itself would have the final say about whether the ban would be lifted and new rules imposed on pot sales operations.

Wetherbee, who operates marijuana stores in Parkland and Spanaway, said he expects his shop will open in early March. He said he expects the shop could provide Fife with as much as $150,000 in additional revenues annually.

At the time the City Council voted for the initial ban, state law provided that tax revenue from the pot sales would not be shared with local cities. That law subsequently changed.

The extra cash will help shore up a city budget that took a hit last year when the Puyallup tribe decided not to make a voluntary $850,000 payment in lieu of taxes for city services. The tribe said the city didn’t provide it sufficient information about those services to justify payment.

The tribe’s marijuana store will collect taxes from nontribal members, but they will be retained by the tribe for “essential government services.”

The tribe also operates a casino and hotel, two gas stations and convenience stores on tribal land within the city.

John Weymer, Puyallup tribal spokesman, said the tribe’s retail outlet was originally due to open late this month, but has been delayed about three weeks.

The Puyallup Tribe signed a compact with the state in January 2015 allowing the tribe to operate a cannabis testing lab.

That agreement was subsequently expanded to allow tribal pot sales.

John Gillie:

253-597-8663

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