Despite more advocates coming forward to allow a recreational marijuana store to open, Sequim City councilors voted Monday night to extend the city’s marijuana moratorium another six months.
The vote came to 4-1 on Aug. 11 with Genaveve Starr opposed to the extension. Councilors Laura Dubois and Ken Hays were absent from the meeting.
City Manager Steve Burkett said he and city staff recommended the extension for three reasons: to continue asking the Legislature to share state revenues from recreational sales with cities, to combine recreational and medical marijuana to eliminate confusion and to wait out unintended consequences.
“It’s a good idea to let other cities experiment with this and find out what some of these unintended consequences are,” he said. “Let the Legislature fix the issues when they come into session next year. I don’t see a lot of negative impacts. There are other places that do sell it, but it’s certainly a good trade off to go slowly.”
Mayor Candace Pratt agreed with Burkett about going slowly.
“In going forward cautiously, I think we are showing we are respecting our positions as leaders of the community,” she said. “Rather than pursuing a lawsuit, appeal to legislators to address inequities. Of the city’s 8.7 percent sales tax, we get less 0.8 of one penny. That’s not a lot of money. In the spirit of law that we passed (Initiative 502), we want more money.”
Councilor Ted Miller said it came down to two issues for him — shared revenues and combining medical and recreational marijuana.
“Our No. 1 need is to have the state Legislature get its act together so we can get an appropriate amount of funding so it’s not an unfunded mandate on the city, which is what it is right now,” he said.
“Police enforcement is going to cost something. We need some money to accomplish that.”
Starr, who opposed the moratorium in the past, said after the meeting that she still opposes the moratorium because “voters voted and this is their will and we’re in the way of that.”
However, Starr didn’t express this during the meeting because she said she felt the other councilors had made up their minds already.
“I just don’t think I was going to make them change their minds,” she said.
Proponents speak up
A handful of marijuana proponents spoke at the meeting including David Halpern, the city’s lottery winner for its lone recreational shop.
Halpern said he supports splitting the state taxes and said his business could bring many benefits to the city such as construction jobs and higher paying jobs.
“There are previous concerns about this being a cash business but I have a bank now that will take my money,” he said “ What I really want to do is have a cashless business.”
Some advocates felt lawsuits in other cities could carry over to Sequim if the moratorium continued. However, Halpern said he wouldn’t pursue suing the city and his attorney has another course of action he wouldn’t divulge.
Halpern just moved into his business at 755 W. Washington St., Suite C, on Aug. 1 and plans to begin remodeling as soon as the city allows him.
“I’m ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars in Sequim,” he said.
Susan Molin, who lives outside the city limits, said she spoke to city councilors so they could put a face to those who use marijuana.
She said she had to purchase it in the past on the black market for nausea and more recently through a prescription for chronic pain.
“I have many friends who must access marijuana illegally,” she said.
“Continuing the denial of the legal rights of selling marijuana is exactly what you don’t want. You’re fueling the black market for illegal marijuana in our town.”
Judith Parker of Sequim encouraged the council to follow the state’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana.
“Your job is to represent us,” she said. “Your job is not to represent your own aversions, nervousness and anxieties. Your job is to represent us, the people who elected you and voted for this initiative. We voted because we wanted an honest market.”
Burkett later said the issue at hand isn’t a matter of changing the availability of marijuana in Sequim and that no one is naïve enough to think the moratorium affects access of medical marijuana or recreational marijuana now or as it’s been in 80 years.
Chris Hugo, director of community development, said the city received 31 e-mails from people involved with an online petition, including five from Sequim, to lift the moratorium.
Following public comment, Miller said he still prefers to wait for the Legislature to act.
“(The moratorium) should continue until the Legislature does two things, restore some of the revenue and fixes the ridiculous situation to have legal recreational marijuana and illegal medical marijuana. It should be just the opposite,” he said.