A lawsuit against Pierce County alleges the County Council violated the rights of two recreational marijuana businessmen looking to open a retail shop near Elk Plain.
Filed by Tedd Wetherbee and business partner Michael Heneryin Pierce County Superior Court, the suit targets action the council took Dec. 15 when it amended its marijuana ordinance.
Specifically, it says an amendment approved by the council is unconstitutional and illegally targets marijuana businesses.
Proposed by Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, the amendment prohibits marijuana sales within 1,000 feet of a section of state Route 7 that the state has designated a scenic and recreational highway.
The council approved the amendment 4-3. It will go into effect later this month.
Wetherbee said the amendment was proposed in direct response to his proposed SR 7 business because McCune drives that stretch of road.
McCune did not return a call for comment Friday.
“We’re not going to sit around and let someone illegally zone out an entire area,” Wetherbee said of the council’s action. “Spot zoning is illegal.”
County Council chairman Dan Roach questioned Wetherbee’s interpretation of “spot zoning.” Roach had not read the lawsuit or talked to legal counsel, but said Friday he believed the council’s action was legal.
“I don’t think it’s spot zoning because it’s the entire highway,” the Bonney Lake Republican said. “He has a right (to file suit) and let the court decide. We’ll see what they say.”
Wetherbee also questioned the scenic moniker for the stretch of highway where the 1,000-foot buffer applies.
“Highway 7 could be considered scenic if you’re a fan of recycling centers and chain-link fences,” he said.
Wetherbee and Henery purchased a building at 21802 Mountain Highway E. in September with the intent to turn it into their second retail marijuana store. They already operate The Gallery on Pacific Avenue South in Parkland, which they opened in violation of county code.
The pair is in the process of getting a license from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to open the SR 7 location.
Pierce County has a de facto ban on marijuana businesses. It requires recreational marijuana business to have a conditional use permit, but to get a permit a business owner must show marijuana is no longer listed as a controlled substance under federal law.
That is expected to change later this year. McCune’s amendment was attached to a new county ordinance that eliminates the tie to federal law beginning July 1. That means that absent McCune’s amendment, Wetherbee’s proposed location would have complied with county law come this summer.
“They said: ‘You can go here.’ And when we went there they said: ‘Oh no, no, no, no, you can’t go there now,’” Wetherbee said. “We hope that this action raises the awareness of what is going on and that the council comes to its senses.”
This is not Wetherbee’s first marijuana-related lawsuit. He previously filed suits against the cities of Fife and Gig Harbor related to their respective marijuana bans.