By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“It’s just not worth it for us to proceed,” Mayor Candace Pratt said before the council passed a moratorium on a 6-to-1 vote Monday night.
The temporary moratorium on decisions about any types of pot businesses was recommended by the city’s Planning Commission, which has recommended that final zoning regulations ban the production and processing of marijuana and limit retail sales of recreational marijuana to the dense commercial zones on the east and west ends of Washington Street.
The council will conduct a public hearing on the zoning rules, which could also include a lifting of the moratorium, on March 10.
Councilwoman Genaveve Starr passed the lone vote against the moratorium.
“I think the citizens voted for [the initiative], and I think we should proceed,” Starr said.
Sequim voters gave 52 percent approval to Initiative 502, which passed in Clallam County by 55 percent and in neighboring Jefferson County by 65 percent as it was approved statewide in the November 2012 election.
The state Liquor Control Board is implementing the initiative that legalized and regulated the growing, processing and distribution of marijuana to adults 21 and older.
The state Liquor Control Board is considering applications submitted late last year for those looking to grow, package and sell recreational marijuana.
The state has allotted areas with a certain number of retail stores, with Sequim given one. Growers and possessors are not limited in the same way.
Matter of ‘control’
Chris Hugo, community development director, proposed the moratorium to the Planning Commission, saying current city laws would allow marijuana producers to begin growing now without permission from the city.
“It’s the production side of it where we really have no control,” Hugo told the council Monday.
Agriculture is allowed in the city’s urban residential II and mixed-use zones, which cover most of the city.
The zoning rules passed by the Planning Commission explicitly declare marijuana as not being an agricultural commodity.
Hugo said the city would have had little control over the placement of the retail store had it not implemented the moratorium and if the state issued the license.
Clallam County is allowed a maximum of six retail stores. Along with the single store in Sequim, two will be permitted in Port Angeles and three anywhere else in the county.
Jefferson County will get four retail cannabis stores: one in Port Townsend and three anywhere else in the county.
Several bills regarding marijuana are before the state Legislature.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said those bills may change the tax structure and may limit the amount of control local jurisdictions have over marijuana facilities.
“The Legislature is not done messing with us yet,” Ritchie said. “So we really can’t make decisions.”
Hugo said the lack of tax revenue was a prime driver in the Planning Commission’s recommendation to ban production and processing from the city.
“There’s really no direct tax benefit to the city,” Hugo said.
Downtown zoned out
Hugo said he wants city zoning regulations to be ready when the Legislature finishes and the liquor board finalizes its rules.
Councilman Ken Hays asked why the proposed zones restricted pot shops to the far ends of town, saying they could make sense downtown.
“To me, it seems like the perfect location,” Hays said, noting that such shops could increase foot traffic in the city’s commercial core.
“And the people that are patronizing might spontaneously get hungry and support our restaurants downtown,” he added.
Hugo said state regulations on the exterior visibility of pot shops would not fit in with the city’s downtown design standards.
“I don’t think the premises are going to be a benefit to the look of downtown,” Hugo said.
Starr disagreed: “I do not agree that a retail establishment could not design their store in a way that their product isn’t displayed to the street and still do it in a tasteful manner.”
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.