City may allow one retail marijuana store

six-month-moratorium remains on all things marijuana in the City of Sequim.

A six-month-moratorium remains on all things marijuana in the City of Sequim.

However, a retail marijuana location could come into the city limits if certain circumstances are voted into place.

Sequim City councilors made a 4-3 decision on March 24 to allow retail marijuana sales in the city’s general retail and commercial zones, which fall mostly at both ends of Washington Street due to restrictions from Downtown Sequim and areas like schools and parks.

The ordinance doesn’t allow for marijuana processing and production in the city limits, which some Sequim residents and business owners championed on Monday.

Some advocates said the shop could be a boon for the economy and others said voters approved retail stores with I-502 in November 2012 and the city council was slowing the process.

City Attorney Craig Ritchie said he and others suspected the state Legislature would combine medical marijuana and retail sales but it did not. Ritchie called it a belt and suspenders situation where if retail marijuana is legal then the city should designate where its one allowed retail location should go, which would remain unable to operate due to the moratorium.

Councilor Laura Dubois, who voted in favor of the council decision, said she’d vote for extending the moratorium an additional six months up to Feb. 24, 2015, to wait for the Legislature.

“Since the state Legislature is not getting good reviews on their work and we have a second six-month moratorium, we can tell them to step up and do their job,” she said.

“If we’re to have retail outlet in city, then we need some funding for staff, especially police, because there will be staff time. We have a lot of costs and the state is not allowing us any of it.”

Councilors Erik Erichsen, Ted Miller and Dennis Smith opposed the ordinance.

Erichsen and Miller said before they were opposed to sales for now because federally it’s illegal and they signed onto the city council under federal obligations.

David Halpern, a Gardiner resident, said the city council documents they signed actually uphold Washington’s laws and not the federal government, which angered Erichsen.

Later Erichsen said when he participates in the “Pledge of Allegiance,” it preempts state law.

“I do it every time I have a meeting here and I still cannot support (the ordinance) because it is against federal law,” he said.

“I’m sorry we have federal officials who do not wish to support our laws, but we’re people who vote for those people and we have the right to vote in people who do follow our laws. I support a moratorium in perpetuity until they merge the two (retail and medical marijuana).”

Miller said he’d prefer not to take action and maintain the moratorium, too.

“If we pass this, we’re actually allowing an unlimited amount (of marijuana retail stores),” he said. “We’re limited to one because of the Liquor Control Board and they can change their policy now or in the next month. Don’t get hung up on the one because one today could be any number tomorrow.”

Despite the ordinance, city councilors could vote to prohibit all marijuana sales but if the state Legislature were to pass a preemption, it would force the city to allow a retail location.

Police Chief Bill Dickinson said he liked the idea of the city council taking its time for a decision.

“We need to be prudent. I think (a retail marijuana store) is inevitable. The voters have spoken. If we can take a methodical approach and see how other jurisdictions handle it then it gives the city an opportunity to continue to lobby to receive some of the funding from the state so we can afford to handle the increase in workload,” he said.

Dickinson said some of the added costs may include enforcement for marijuana shoplifting, smoking marijuana illegally in public, and driving under the influence of marijuana for which the city will pay a phelbotomist to perform the test.

He said the city should look into the best practices for marijuana retail sales going forward such as to prevent shoplifting. Dickinson said Karma Wellness, a Port Angeles medical marijuana dispensary, was a good example of a store’s presentation with a nice reception area making difficult to shoplift.