Marijuana may be legal to possess in Washington, but it may remain impossible to buy it from a retail shop in Sumner and Puyallup for some time to come.
More than 1.7 million voters approved Initiative 502 last November, although city councils in Puyallup and Sumner are taking it slow before they approve the sale of marijuana within their boundaries, if they approve it at all.
Sumner leadership placed a moratorium beginning in January 2012 to prohibit medical marijuana from the community, and it approved an ordinance last November that changed the city’s zoning laws to prohibit the production, processing or retailing of marijuana.
City documents from last November’s public hearing state the city believes that, despite the approval of the state initiative, “the city has the authority to adopt zoning requirements related to these marijuana facilities within their jurisdictions.”
City leaders also believe that, since marijuana continues to be against federal law, it would be inappropriate “for any zoning designation within the city,” according to the document.
Sumner City Attorney Brett Vinson said the zoning change was not necessarily a permanent move, nor was it made on moral grounds. He said city leaders are still waiting for clarification from federal authorities and “see what the feds do.”
“There are still a lot of questions,” Vinson said. “It is still a little hazy.”
Vinson said he will bring up the marijuana initiative in a month or two after the federal government’s reaction to the state law is known.
Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow also was concerned about how I-502 would affect the city.
“When I talk to residents of Sumner, they are very concerned about the effects of drug use, legal or not, on our community,” Enslow said. “This is a walkable, small community, so every place is close to schools, parks and homes. Other places in the state may decide differently, but for Sumner, I don’t see marijuana fitting into this community.”
Brian Smith, spokesperson for the state Liquor Control Board, said “nothing in 502 allows a community to opt out.” He said if an applicant meets state requirements, a license would be granted.
If a community tried to ban a legal marijuana business from its borders, Smith said there would be “legal friction there.”
He did point out that the Liquor Control Board is completing rules on how I-502 will be implemented. Among many, they may include restrictions on how marijuana or related products will be displayed; what a retailer can sell; and signage.
The state already has determined that 334 retail licenses will be issue. Two have been designated for Puyallup, one for Bonney Lake, zero for Sumner, and 17 for Pierce County.
Smith said if an applicant wanted to open a retail store in Sumner, the state could grant one of the 17 at-large Pierce County licenses.
The final rules are due on Oct. 16, Smith said. A 30-day application window will open on Nov. 18.
Meanwhile, Puyallup unanimously approved a 60-day moratorium in August to prohibit any marijuana business from operating within city limits.
While Mayor Rick Hansen said city leaders have some “grave concerns,” he also said he anticipates retail marijuana stores to open in Puyallup.
“There will be places they can locate,” Hansen said, adding that the state rules will limit possible locations.
One rule, which is being revised, would prohibit a marijuana retail business from being closer than 1,000 feet from a school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library or arcade where admission is not restricted to those 21 and older.
Hansen acknowledged Puyallup must allow the business, but he stressed city leaders will be careful.
“We will allow it, as any business, but will be careful,” Hansen said.
He added that he’s heard about some interest from possible marijuana retail operations who might like to be in the city.
Keith Henson, director of the Pierce County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, stressed that it’s important that the cannabis legalization goes well in Washington, because it could have nationwide impacts.
“We want it to be successful,” he said. “This is an experiment. This is the first step, and it is really important that we do it right.”
Henson recalled speaking to a group of tailgaters at a state ski resort who were smoking marijuana. He approached them and gently mentioned that they were breaking the law because they were on federal land and were smoking in public.
“We need to be discreet and on our best behavior,” Henson said.
He supported Puyallup’s decision to place a moratorium on the effects of I-502.
“I thought it was OK, because the final rules had not yet come out, and it is prudent to do a moratorium until the rules come out,” Henson said.
“Now that the rules are out, people should be moving ahead and have their implementation plans in place,” he added.
According to records from the Pierce County Auditor’s Office, Puyallup voters approved the initiative with 8,804 agreeing to the measure and 8,629 voting against it.
In Sumner, 2,276 voted for the initiative, and 2,018 said no.
The Sumner Police Department and school district recently were awarded a $625,000 grant from the White House Drug Control Policy to form a coalition to battle youth drug abuse.
The Sumner/Bonney Lake Drug-Free Communities Coalition will work to establish and strengthen community collaboration to prevent youth substance abuse.
Carmen Palmer, the communications director for the City of Sumner, said an estimated 4,000 youth between 12 and 17 use drugs for the first time each day nationally. She also said high school seniors are more likely to smoke marijuana than cigarettes.
The coalition is led by Marilee Hill-Anderson of the school district and Police Chief Brad Moericke. Other members represent 12 sectors of the community, including youth, parents, businesses, media, fraternal organizations, and health care professionals.
The coalition plans to assess, identify and target areas of high marijuana and alcohol use; reduce alcohol sales to minors with vendor training; change youth perceptions of acceptability of marijuana and alcohol use; sponsor block-watch training; increase parent and adult knowledge of the consequences of providing alcohol to minors; and advocate for policies that reduce youth access to alcohol and marijuana.Tom McCrady is a freelance reporter for the Herald