City expected to ban marijuana businesses

As Bonney Lake’s year long moratorium on legal marijuana businesses nears its end, city residents should expect to shop elsewhere for their marijuana.During the Jan. 6 City Council meeting, an unofficial poll showed the majority of council members in favor of an outright ban of all marijuana growers, processors and retail shops from the city.

“I don’t think we need to have it. It doesn’t need to be in Bonney Lake,” said Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson. “We have the power to ban it. We should ban it, and leave it at that.”

The official vote on Ordinance D15-08A, which will ban all legal marijuana businesses from the city, will be held on Jan. 13.

Legal concerns

Most of the workshop discussion was dominated by council members concerns toward possible court litigation, the potential for federal government backlash and the physical and physiological health of residents, while discussion about possible profit for the city and the lack of financial incentive from the state government took a back seat.

The city’s power to ban marijuana businesses is based on Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s opinion on I-502, which stated the initiative has no clear language that it intended to preempt local authority to zone or ban marijuana businesses.

“We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions,” the statement reads.

Bonney Lake City Attorney Kathleen Haggard said the Attorney General’s opinion is not binding, but has weight within the court system.

“Even though this opinion came out in 2014, there was no action in the legislature in the 2014 session to overrule it,” Haggard said. “If an AG opinion comes out to determine a statute and the legislature takes no action, then the legislature is presumed to be OK with it.”

Haggard also said if state legislation did not take action on the opinion during the 2015 session, then it is likely the state Supreme Court will uphold any ban made by municipalities.

So far, bans on marijuana businesses have been upheld for Wenatchee, Fife, Kennewick, Pierce County and Cowlitz County, although Haggard said these bans were rationalized from state law and traditional zoning authority, and not from federal law.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under federal law.

Haggard said the federal law argument has not been addressed in the state court system, but “both the ACLU and the attorney general are going after the federal law argument very aggressively on the thought that it has the ability to tip over the entire state system.”

While it is so far legal for Bonney Lake to ban marijuana businesses from operating within the city, Haggard said there is still the question of whether the federal government will step in and prosecute states that have legalized marijuana.

“That’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet,” Haggard said. “The courts are all avoiding that issue.”

In August 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole released a memo that guided federal prosecutors away from prosecuting states that have made marijuana legal.

“The federal government doesn’t have the will to enforce federal law against businesses that are operating lawfully,” Haggard said while summarizing the memo.

However, the memo stated it is not binding on law, nor does it affect the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute, and several members of the council expressed concern at the possibility of prosecution in the future if the council allowed marijuana businesses to open in the city.

Since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, 21 more states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form.

Public feedback

After the council addressed most of their legal concerns over legal marijuana, council members Mark Hamilton and Don Lewis expressed their constituent’s views on legalization and the potential for marijuana retail stores to come into Bonney Lake.

“Talking to people, friends and family, I must say I was quite surprised and shocked by a lot of the comments from friends and family,” Hamilton said.  “People that I never thought would have been supportive of voting for this initiative voted for it.”

According to the Pierce County’s Auditor’s office, around 53 percent of voters approved I-502, and 47 percent were against. Unincorporated Pierce County votes were not included in those counts, due to voting precincts overlapping city limits.

Hamilton said these people wanted to legalize marijuana not to re-live to 60s, but to decriminalize the drug for young people.

“They just felt it’s totally wrong to continue to put young people in prison for smoking a little marijuana, or even selling it,” he said.

At the same time, Hamilton said nearly everyone he talked to had the same attitude towards a retail store in Bonney Lake – absolutely not. “They didn’t think it fit our community,” Hamilton said. “It was better suited for Seattle, Tacoma, someplace else. Even Buckley.”

Buckley had two marijuana retail stores, Mr. Bills of Buckley and The Green Door, open last September and November respectively.

Lewis agreed with Hamilton, saying the people he talked to were in favor of having it available, but not available locally.

“When I talked to them about having it in Bonney Lake, they said, ‘Why would we want to do that? We could buy it in Buckley. We don’t want it here,’” Lewis said.

According to Lewis, many people are concerned about exposing marijuana to underage children.

“Their fear is that if parents have it around the house, kids will somehow obtain it,” Lewis said, likening the situation of an underage child gaining possession of a parent’s marijuana to gaining possession of a parent’s firearm.

“We have school shootings now, where we have kids get their dad’s gun somehow, under lock and key, but gosh they get the gun and take it to school,” said Lewis. “So if it’s a simple things like marijuana, and dad’s using it and has it locked up, the kid’s going to figure out how to get in there, just like how they can get to a gun.”

In a previous workshop, council member Watson cited an increase in Washington Poison Center calls in relation to marijuana exposure in children.

“Our call volume has increased over 120 percent regarding children exposed to marijuana and marijuana edibles (in 2014), compared to 2013,” said Dr. Alexander Garrard, the clinical managing director of the Washington Poison Center. “This may be due to marijuana edibles being more available, and the lack of child-resistant packaging.”

The poison center recorded 33 marijuana exposures last October, the highest amount in two years.

Additionally, 53 percent of all pediatric marijuana exposures reported in 2014 through October are for teens between the ages of 13 and 19. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 make up a further 25 percent of all reported pediatric marijuana exposures for the same time period.