Port Townsend taking time to consider ramifications of retail pot

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND— The City Council’s approval of a six-month moratorium on the granting of business licenses for recreational marijuana outlets will allow city personnel time to consider how pot fits into Port Townsend, officials said.

The ordinance approved Tuesday will be in place until March 3, when the council can decide to renew it, according to City Attorney John Watts.

If the moratorium is not sustained, the matter will be forwarded to the city Planning Commission to develop an approval process, Mayor David King said.

“At the end of the moratorium period, we can kick the can down the road for another six months, which I suspect we will do,” King said.

“After that, we’ll get the Planning Commission involved, which is how these things should go.”

Approval of the moratorium was unanimous, with council members Catharine Robinson and Robert Gray not in attendance.

Marijuana retail outlets in the city would have to be sited in commercial districts.

The state Liquor Control Board proposed Sept. 4 that a maximum of 334 locations would sell recreational marijuana to adults in Washington, with four retail pot stores allowed in Jefferson County, one in Port Townsend and three in the unincorporated area, and six in Clallam County, with two in Port Angeles, one in Sequim and three in the unincorporated area.

There is a 30-day public comment period before the rules are adopted.

State Liquor Control Board members said retail stores could open as early as next June.

The state is expected to begin accepting applications from marijuana producers, processors and retailers for 30 days beginning Nov. 16.

Medical marijuana facilities already are operating. Washington voters last year approved an initiative allowing retail sales to adults.

The Justice Department said Aug. 28 that it would not sue Washington state over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults as long as it adheres to federal priorities that include preventing drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from children and off the black market.

State law says retail marijuana operations won’t be allowed within 1,000 feet of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child-care center, public park, public transit center, library or arcade.

“Interestingly, this list doesn’t include churches,” King said.

Still, the map prepared by the city outlining all of the facilities that need buffer zones — and the zones themselves — viewable by clicking on this link: http://tinyurl.com/m6a2saa — suggests that no retail operation could operate within the Port Townsend city limit, he said.

This hasn’t discouraged Gracen Hook, who opened the Alternative Clinic at 215 W. Patison St., Port Hadlock, earlier this year leased a space at 1433 E. Sims Way that he plans to open as a medical dispensary next month and convert it to a retail store next year when retail pot stores open throughout the state.

Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin said he did not expect any additional county restrictions on retail marijuana operations other than those imposed by the state and the county requirements for a standard business license.

Retail license allocations are based on population, accessibility and consumption.

“The specific locations would be selected by lottery in the event the number of applications exceeds the allotted amount for the cities and county,” the Liquor Control Board said.

Brinnon attorney Nicole Black said she plans to apply to operate a retail outlet in a building she owns at 91 Corey Lane.

“I have a small space, but I don’t know what to do with it,” Black said.

“I want to open a business that doesn’t compete with what’s already there. We don’t need any more gift shops.

“I want to offer something new in a town where opportunities are limited, and this is the kind of business that people in the community will support.”

Both Black and Hook said the presence of retail marijuana outlets can stimulate tourism.

“A large portion of the Port Townsend population uses cannabis, and we will get people from all over the world,” Hook said.

“We will attract those who want to take advantage of the new law, but they don’t want to go to the big city.”

“Port Townsend could be the next little Amsterdam,” said Barry Ellis, who has worked for Hook at the Port Hadlock dispensary, referring to the European city that has long attracted cannabis users.

“It’s an art and music community, and there have always been a lot of farmers, so it can support growing operations.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 07. 2013 6:12PM
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