City moratorium extension annoys marijuana advocates

Puyallup: Dissenting council member favors a one-month renewal to deliberate regulation

of the HeraldMarch 26, 2014 

The Puyallup City Council voted last week to extend an additional six months to a moratorium that prohibits the production, processing or selling marijuana or pot-infused products.

But not before proponents presented their case at a public hearing.

“In the absence of a legal alternative for acquiring marijuana, we are left with illegal, unregulated and untaxed markets — black and gray — to meet the demand, and that does not make us safer,” said Keith Henson, director for Tacoma Pierce County NORML, a national organization which advocates for legalizing marijuana.

Henson said citizens — and cities — who abandon legal sales are endorsing the status quo, which is the uncontrolled criminal market.

“While not the intention, the results of these bans and moratoriums promote criminal enterprise, and the taxes and all the good things that the revenue might provide the people are lost to us and added to the profit margins of those who deal in the unregulated markets,” Henson said.

Attorney Jay Berneburg spoke in favor of ending the moratorium and for the city to comply with the state law. Voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012 to legalize marijuana, and the state Liquor Control Board has been working to implement the law.

“I represent people who apply for (marijuana) licenses,” Berneburg said. “These are good, law-abiding people who are making significant investments and want to go forward in a responsible way.”

Berneburg credited the Liquor Control Board for “bringing a safe, good program to the state of Washington and to cities and communities to end the black market.”

Berneburg talked about state legislators who “have worked really hard to bring good legislation that does good for citizens,” and that takes marijuana out of the black market.

“If you’re going to do a moratorium, make it the last one,” he said.

“We have good people waiting on this. They want to pay taxes, do good for the community, be productive. Don’t miss the boat on this. Respect the voters. Respect democracy. Pay attention to the signs. Don’t be afraid of marijuana.”

The existing Puyallup moratorium — extended by the council following a public hearing on Oct. 1 — was set to expire at the end of this month. Last week’s 6-1 vote extended it through September.

Formal planning commission recommendations regarding proposed zoning code amendments related to marijuana-related businesses had not been presented to the council as of March 18.

Deputy City Attorney Steve Kirkelie wrote in a memo to the council that “city staff believes it is prudent to renew the moratorium to allow further research, analysis and deliberation” of the findings.

Planning Commission recommendations are in favor of zoning code amendments that would prohibit businesses such as producers, processors or retailers from locating on a parcel that abuts a residentially zoned parcel. The amendment is in addition to the 1,000-foot buffer rule established by the state that’s required between marijuana-related businesses and places where children and youth congregate.

A council majority wants more time to establish which parts of the city would fall into that rule, like Pierce College, for instance, where a majority of students are younger than 21.

Council member Tom Swanson said it had been only five days past the 60-day legislative session at the time of the meeting.

“We are five days into knowing what we have to regulate and what we don’t have to regulate,” he said. “In five days, we have not been able to craft appropriate zoning regulation for where this would and would not go, so I think it’s good to extend the moratorium.”

Council member John Hopkins cast the opposing vote. He urged council members to consider a one-month moratorium extension, because he thinks that’s enough time to deliberate.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew

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