County Hearing Examiner Keith Black has denied a conditional use permit to The Gallery, the first state-licensed recreational marijuana retail store to open in Pierce County.
Black cited the Pierce County Council’s delay in lifting its de-facto ban on recreational marijuana businesses as the reason for his denial.
Late last year, the council approved lifting the ban effective July 1. Until then, current laws still apply, Black wrote in his Jan. 21 ruling.
Pierce County code currently says state-licensed recreational marijuana businesses need a conditional use permit to operate. To obtain the permit an applicant must show marijuana is no longer listed as a controlled substance by the federal government.
Washington voters decriminalized marijuana in 2012 but the drug remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
The Gallery owners Tedd Wetherbee and Mike Henery opened their retail marijuana store at 13005 Pacific Avenue South in February 2015. A few days later, the county began code enforcement proceedings to shut them down.
Wetherbee and Henery didn’t have required county permits, including a sign permit and conditional use permit.
The pair applied for the permits and the county denied their application. They appealed.
The store has remained open.
Wetherbee said Friday that Black’s hands were tied by the County Council.
“We have great respect for Mr. Black and we only wish that he had the opportunity to do what we clearly feel he was indicating he would have liked to have done in his report,” Wetherbee said.
In his ruling, Black noted the business met all requirements except for the federal government requirement and a county requirement that recreational marijuana business must operate in a standalone building.
The Gallery’s location on Pacific Avenue South shares a building with another business. The County Council agreed to also remove that restriction come July 1.
“In the seven months that the business has been open, there have been no complaints from the surrounding uses or increased police activity in the surrounding neighborhood that can be accredited to this business,” Black wrote. “Alternatively, the business has improved the appearance of the parcel by updating and maintaining the landscaping along Pacific Avenue.”
The business, which employs 19 people, is consistent with county policies, including meeting zoning requirements, Black wrote. He also noted the Parkland-Spanaway-Midland Advisory Commission’s recommended approval of the permit with the caveat it would have to be legal under county code.
Wetherbee and Henery plan to appeal Black’s ruling.
“Thankfully, we have the right to stay open while we fight for our rights,” Wetherbee said.
Wetherbee and Henery also have a lawsuit pending against Pierce County related to a second retail store they hope to open on state Route 7 between Spanaway and Graham.