Marijuana

Pierce County ban on pot businesses vetoed by county executive

On the eve of state-licensed marijuana operations becoming legal in the county, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the County Council’s latest ban on marijuana businesses.
On the eve of state-licensed marijuana operations becoming legal in the county, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the County Council’s latest ban on marijuana businesses. Staff file, 2015

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the County Council’s latest attempt to ban marijuana businesses Thursday, the eve of the expiration of the county’s old ban.

“I am vetoing this ordinance because my job as an elected official requires me to advance the will of the people who voted in 2012, in a comprehensive election, to legalize recreational marijuana,” McCarthy wrote in a June 30 letter to Council Chairman Doug Richardson.

In response, Richardson said he would not keep the ordinance alive by returning it to the council.

“There are not five votes on the council necessary to override her veto,” the Lakewood Republican said in a prepared statement Thursday.

McCarthy and Richardson said it is time to move forward with regulating legal marijuana businesses in the county.

That starts with forcing the closure of any medical marijuana dispensaries that attempt to stay open after June 30 without a state-issued license.

As elected officials, we cannot shirk our duty to rationally and responsibly enforce the marijuana regulations imposed by the state.

Pat McCarthy, Pierce County Executive

Friday (July 1) is the deadline set last year in legislation aimed at eliminating unregulated dispensaries and merging medical marijuana sales with the regulated recreational market created in the wake of Initiative 502’s legalization of pot. All businesses, whether they sell to patients or recreational users, will need a license from the state starting Friday.

Businesses in unincorporated areas of Pierce County also will need a county-issued conditional use permit. The county has always required this step, but until Friday it was impossible for businesses to get such permits because of a provision that required the businesses to also comply with federal law.

That requirement goes away Friday when a new county law takes effect. Approved by the County Council in December, the change removes the federal condition, granting state-licensed marijuana operations the ability to open in specific commercial zones.

It is now the County Council’s job to focus on the new law’s implementation to make sure all illegal dispensaries are closed, Richardson said.

“This is it, the law goes into effect tomorrow,” Richardson said by phone Thursday. “I think we just move on and make sure it’s properly regulated.”

Also in December, the council approved creating a marijuana enforcement team tasked with regulating marijuana businesses in the county. Revenue received from a state excise tax on marijuana sales will pay for that enforcement.

Richardson said the money could be used for all drug enforcement efforts and to make sure marijuana does not wind up in the hands of children.

Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, proposed the most recent ban after an April advisory vote showed 52 percent of voters favored continuing to ban pot businesses.

McCarthy faulted the April 26 election, saying it did not represent the majority of county voters since the vote was limited to the unincorporated areas and the election had low turnout. She cited statewide votes in 1998 and in 2012 where the majority of Pierce County voters joined the rest of the state in supporting legalization of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

She clearly felt vetoing a ridiculous bill was the right thing to do.

Tedd Wetherbee, co-owner, The Gallery

“That’s why I was dismayed to watch last April’s costly election unfold,” McCarthy wrote, noting the election’s $425,000 price tag. “As elected officials, we cannot shirk our duty to rationally and responsibly enforce the marijuana regulations imposed by the state.”

Marijuana shop owner Tedd Wetherbee called the veto a victory for state-licensed businesses looking to operate in the county.

Wetherbee and business partner Mike Henery own The Gallery, a retail marijuana store with locations in Parkland and Spanaway. They opened the stores in violation of county code anticipating the elimination of the ban. They have permit applications pending before the county hearing examiner.

“She clearly felt vetoing a ridiculous bill was the right thing to do,” Wetherbee said of McCarthy’s action. “Unfortunately (the latest ban) was a further waste of the taxpayers’ time and money, but we’re happy with the veto.”

 

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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