Sequim residents won’t have to venture too far to purchase recreational and medical marijuana.
After two six-month extensions to the moratorium on the sale of legalized recreational and medical marijuana enacted by the Sequim City Council more than a year ago, council members voted 5-1 to allow the moratorium to expire Sunday, Aug. 9.
City council member Laura Dubois absent.
The decision was cemented with the approved motion recommended by city staff to adopt Ordinance 2015-012 relating to the recreational and medical use of marijuana and make necessary technical changes to the Sequim Municipal Code to comply with new state laws.
“I think we should honor the commitment that we made when we started down this road with the moratorium,” councilor Ken Hays said prior to the vote.
“All the conditions have been met and I think it’s only fair to allow what the majority of voters have approved in the state and City of Sequim to be allowed to progress and to let Mr. Halpern open his business that he’s been patiently waiting to happen.”
“I’m very happy,” Halpern said directly following the public hearing. “I’m every synonym for happy … this has been a long time coming.”
Last May, Halpern was awarded the opportunity to be the city’s single recreational marijuana retailer after a double-blind lottery. For the past year Halpern has paid rent at 755 W. Washington St.,
Ste. C, while awaiting for city officials to lift the moratorium.
“The moratorium expires Aug. 9, so on Aug. 10, I’ll be in for my business permit,” he said. “I’m 100 percent committed to this project.”
Anticipating the city moratorium would be allowed to expire, Halpern hired a store manager, Matthew Clark, at the beginning of June, who then moved to the area from Utah. Together Halpern and Clark plan to begin readying business. “It’s going to take a couple of months to get the space ready,” Clark said.
If all goes as planned, Clark hopes Nature’s Gifts would be open for business by about October.
“As soon as the Liquor and Cannabis Board finalizes their rules and regulations as far as a medical endorsement, we’ll apply for that and our store will become a single location for both medical and recreational marijuana,” Halpern said.
Clark predicts hiring 7-10 employees and plans to offer benefits such as paid vacation and sick leave.
“We want to create living-wage jobs,” he said.
Prior to the council’s decision Monday night, Halpern told the council, if allowed to open, Nature’s Gifts would grow and the ability to provide living-wage jobs would become only one financial benefit for the city.
“You’re not getting a lot of the state in excise taxes, but you’ll be getting money from the sales taxes that we generate,” Halpern told city councilors.
In late June, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that became effective at the beginning of July, allowing for revenue sharing with cities and counties from the sale of marijuana. However, only local jurisdictions that allow the sale of legalized marijuana are able to receive any funds from the Legislature’s comprehensive marijuana market reform bill (HB 2136).
Between this year and 2017, $12 million is to be provided for the distribution between those cities and counties. Counties will receive 60 percent and cities 40 percent and distributions will be based on the taxable sales of the jurisdiction. After 2017 and through 2019, once the state’s General Fund has received $25 million in marijuana excise tax revenue, it’s anticipated that 30 percent (with a maximum of $20 million per year) will be distributed to cities and counties.
Along with revenue sharing, the bill instates a sales tax exemption for qualifying medical marijuana patients and restructures the marijuana excise tax and allows for local flexibility with zoning buffers.
Additionally, Senate Bill 5052, approved in April with sections going into effect July 24, not only changed the name of the former Washington State Liquor Control Board to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, but it establishes the Cannabis Patient Protection Act and the use of the regulations in place for the recreational market to provide regulations for medical use, too.
Until the bridging of legalized recreational with medical marijuana, city councilors and officials have been hesitant to allow the sale of marijuana within the city limits.
“The city has had a moratorium for a period of time because Legislature was trying to get its acts to together,” Craig Ritchie, city attorney and interim city manager, told city councilors. “This particular last act (SB 5052) they did seems to fix some of the problems the city attorney and police chief were concerned about and that had to do with medical marijuana.”
Before the bill, a certain limited amount of medical marijuana was provided to individual users and individuals could produce a certain limited amount, Ritchie said, but it was difficult to find a place to legally buy medical marijuana.
“I am an Air Force veteran of Vietnam era with an honorable discharge,” Halpern said. “I know there’s a number of veterans that live in Sequim that use marijuana and I know that some of these veterans are severely disabled.”
Currently, Halpern said, it’s “difficult” for many of the disabled veterans to travel because they have to go to either Discovery Bay or Port Angeles.
“Having a local store in Sequim will improve their lives immensely in my opinion,” he said.
Although the legalized marijuana industry, both medical and recreational, has continued to evolve locally, the federal government has made clear “nothing that the state of Washington does preempts federal law,” Ritchie said.
However, federal officials have officially adopted a tolerance policy at the Department of Justice and Seattle office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Despite the recent tolerance policy and bills passed within the state, councilor Erik Erichsen’s concerns centered on funding for additional enforcement and the fact that marijuana still is federally illegal kept him from supporting the council’s decision Monday.
“This seems like another unfunded mandate to me,” he said.
However, Ritchie noted the city is not expected to expend its funds on enforcement because that’s the responsibility of the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
“My guess is they’ll enforce the marijuana law as vigorously as they enforce the liquor laws, which fluctuates,” Ritchie said.
But, it’s expected LCB officials will pursue their exceptions because if not regulated tightly, the federal government’s position is they’ll then come in and enforce federal law, as they’ve already done in California and Seattle, he said.
Regardless of the city’s moratorium to be sunsetting, the processing and production of marijuana within the city limits remains illegal.