Kent City Council extends marijuana business ban another six months

The Kent City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved renewal of a ban against marijuana businesses for another six months.

Six people testified against the ban during a public hearing before the 7-0 vote. Nobody spoke in favor of the ban.

The city's ban applies to recreational marijuana businesses that voters approved statewide in 2012 when they passed Initiative 502 as well as medical marijuana collective gardens. The council passed its initial ban in November.

The state Liquor Control Board is in the process of issuing licenses for marijuana producers, processors and retailers. The first retail stores are expected to open this summer but won't be allowed in Kent as the new ban runs from May 27 to Nov. 7.

Councilman Dennis Higgins, who opposed every previous council ban against marijuana businesses, voted in favor of the renewed ban. He said he hopes city staff's plan to submit zoning proposals for marijuana businesses to the city's Land Use and Planning Board leads to allowing the businesses.

"The city seems to be in good faith moving down an honest and open process to look at if the council were to join with the majority of their citizens who voted in favor of I-502," Higgins said. "The process the city is following would result in a rational process for citing businesses. Most cities that have allowed (marijuana) businesses have gone through such a process. I wish we could do it faster. I wish we had done it a year ago.

"But I don't want to keep stringing this along if the end result is the council is just going to vote against it anyway. I will hope the Land Use and Planning Board will keep an open mind. I think we should vote with the majority of our citizens at the end of the process."

Councilwoman Dana Ralph said the extension of the ban gives the city more time to deal with the new state law that allows recreational marijuana businesses.

"This is allowing us to go through the same process we go through for zoning of any other type of business or building that comes to this city," Ralph said. "It goes through the Land Use and Planning Board and they make a recommendation that comes to the council."

David Galazin, assistant city attorney, said the process will start with a workshop for the Land Use and Planning Board followed by a public hearing and recommendations from the board to the council.

"This gives the city and you as policymakers the time to thoughtfully look through all the recommendations the Land Use and Planning Board has considered, the information the planning department discovered and I've been in contact with the Denver city attorney's office a couple of times to get feedback from their experience," Galazin said about the state of Colorado that also allows marijuana sales. "We have some good information to work with. We just want to make sure it works through the process and that we have enough time."

Galazin added the moratorium would end sooner than Nov. 7 if the council approves any type of permanent zoning regulations prior to that date.

Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer, said staff expects to have recommendations within a couple of months.

"It's our goal and based on past process that we have every likelihood we will be able to present something to you sometime this summer and well within the six-month moratorium extension," Brubaker said. "If need be, we could consider a further moratorium if council is unable to come to a consensus."

No dates have been set yet for the Land Use and Planning Board workshop about zoning marijuana businesses, Galazin said. Staff will post those dates on the city website when they are set.

Steve Sarich, executive director of the Cannabis Action Coalition, told the council during the public hearing that his group is working on legislation  for the 2015 Legislature that wouldn't allow cities or counties to ban medical marijuana businesses.

"You won't get that opportunity again," Sarich said.

Sarich, of Seattle, is one of the plaintiffs who sued the city two years ago after the council voted 4-3 in June 2012 to ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The state Court of Appeals in March upheld the city's authority to prohibit medical marijuana collective gardens from operating in town. Sarich said the case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The council in November expanded its moratorium to cover recreational marijuana businesses as well and now has extended that ban.


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