Politics & Government

Puyallup bans recreational pot businesses, but stops short of including medical cannabis

Puyallup has become one of the biggest cities in Pierce County to ban marijuana businesses.

The Puyallup City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to prohibit all recreational marijuana producers, processors and retailers. But the council stopped short of banning medical marijuana shops and collective gardens after overwhelming opposition from patients.

Mayor John Knutsen and council members John Palmer, Heather Shadko, Steve Vermillion and Tom Swanson supported it. Council members John Hopkins and Julie Door voted against the proposal.

The regulations come just before a Dec. 31 expiration of a moratorium that was extended several times over the last 16 months.

The delay was intended to give city officials time for research and deliberation about Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012 to create a regulatory system for recreational marijuana. Conflicting pot laws and concerns about I-502’s lack of revenue-sharing with local governments prompted the proposed ban.

Tuesday’s council vote went against a planning commission decision from January that recommended the city allow the businesses in certain areas of the city.

The ordinance outlines a series of instances in which city officials could revisit the regulations for further consideration, such as the federal government decriminalizing the substance or the state Legislature reconciling differences between medical and recreational pot laws.

During the meeting, many medical cannabis patients filled the council chambers, urging council members to leave medical marijuana out of the vote.

They spoke about their difficulty with pharmaceuticals and the impacts denying access to medical pot would have on them, often drawing applause from others in the audience.

Steve Sarich, executive director of Seattle-based Cannabis Action Coalition, said forcing the closure of medical pot businesses would show a lack of compassion.

“Can anybody explain to me why you want to keep medicine out of the hands of patients?” he said.

Tara Woods is a volunteer at a collective garden.

“We have a lot of patients who are too sick to be here tonight,” she said. “I don’t want to see these people who struggle to get their medications have to go further than they already have to.”

Before the vote, Knutsen said it isn’t Puyallup’s job to figure out how to regulate marijuana.

“We’re not elected to determine drug laws,” he said.

Council members stressed the need to urge state lawmakers to address unanswered questions about marijuana regulations, a message also being sent by other municipalities.

“We’re joining that collective voice,” Swanson said, adding that he’s optimistic that more clarity will emerge in the upcoming legislative session.

Councilwoman Door said she voted against the proposal not because she is a fan of marijuana but because she’s listening to voters.

“The will of the people prevails for me,” she said.

Councilwoman Shadko urged attendees to send their concerns up the chain so the state can exercise due diligence.

“Let’s get this fixed,” she said. “Call your legislators.”