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Enumclaw issues moratorium on marijuana operations

Buying time to consider a sticky issue, members of the Enumclaw City Council have implemented a six-month moratorium on any business that would attempt to sell marijuana for recreational use.

As City Attorney Mike Reynolds told the council last week, the city finds itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On one hand, state voters approved Initiative 502, which allows for the production and sale of marijuana for recreational use. On the flip side, the federal government continues to view marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, outlawed by the Controlled Substances Act.

While some cities and towns had taken immediate action and issued prohibitions against marijuana sales, the city of Enumclaw had done nothing until the City Council meeting of Jan. 27. At that gathering, by unanimous vote, members of the council authorized the six-month moratorium on marijuana “production, processing and retail sales.”

Additionally, the council action called for a public hearing to get community input regarding recreational marijuana and its place inside Enumclaw’s borders.

Quick history

While medicinal marijuana made steady inroads in the Evergreen State, the recreational consumption of cannabis remained illegal, as per federal law. Then came Initiative 502, passed by voters in November 2012, making Washington one of just two states – along with Colorado – where recreational marijuana is allowed.

I-502 might have made sales legal, but provisions were included to keep weed dispensaries from sprouting up willy-nilly in every community throughout the state. Chief among those is the mandate that any business selling marijuana for recreational use must be at least 1,000 feet from a school, playground, recreation center, childcare center, public park, transit center, library or game arcade.

Beyond that, regulations were put in place limiting the number of retail outlets and where they’re placed, with priority given to the most densely-populated regions. For example, King County can have 61 retail stores, with 21 of those earmarked for Seattle. There are no allocations for Enumclaw or Black Diamond specifically, although plans allow for 11 “at large” locations. Pierce County gets 31 retail outlets, with eight planned for Tacoma. Bonney Lake was accorded one site. There are no allocations for Buckley, but there are 17 “at large” possibilities.

I-502 gave governing authority to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is taking applications from potential sellers and will eventually determine who gets to set up shop and begin retailing.

The city’s response

In the wake of 502’s passage, city staff put together a map, looking at where retail marijuana sales might be allowed – given the “1,000-foot clause” contained in the initiative. It was determined there are several key sites that meet the criteria for legal sales, including properties on Semanski Street and on state Route 410, primarily on the city’s east side.

Spurring city action was a mid-January ruling handed down by the Office of the Attorney General. City Administrator Chris Searcy told the council the AG’s decision allows cities to retain “their normal powers to regulate business through zoning and other means.”

Enacting a six-month moratorium, Searcy told the council, would put the city in a position to examine all its options – from the most lenient stance allowed under 502 to a complete prohibition of marijuana sales.

A full review of alternatives, Searcy said, should include “a public discussion of what does Enumclaw, as a community, really want to do regarding this new state law and the conflict we have with the federal law.”

That’s the impetus behind the March 10 public hearing, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The hearing will be part of the regularly-scheduled council meeting.

Who wants in?

Companies and individuals have filed to produce, process or sell recreational marijuana. Check next week’s Courier-Herald for a list of local applicants.

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