July 12, 2014 in Washington Voices

Valley council wrestles with stricter marijuana regulations

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Justin Peterson wants to change the “sketchy” perception of the marijuana business, and he can’t do that from a strip mall.

But if Spokane Valley goes beyond state law to restrict where recreational marijuana facilities can operate, Peterson, who expects to receive one of the three state-issued retail licenses allocated for the suburb, would have to move to one. It would be potentially the third location since he moved to his first location in November.

Spokane Valley City Council is considering the new regulations to effectively make permanent a set of emergency zoning rules enacted in February that prohibit retail marijuana operations within 1,000 feet of recreational trails and undeveloped or vacant property owned by schools and parks.

The state already prohibits pot operations near schools, day cares, recreational centers, parks and other places where kids gather.

Council members – who have openly discussed their personal dislike for marijuana – appeared all but certain on Tuesday to make permanent the additional restrictions on retail outlets. Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard said he wanted to add more clarity to the interim rules so they could be defensible in court and protect soon-to-be schools, libraries and parks.

“I don’t want to leave any ambiguity,” Woodard said. “I think the more clear we make the regulation, the better we are as a city.”

Deputy City Attorney Erik Lamb has told council the city has legal authority to add zoning restrictions to the state law. Additionally, he said, the state is making a strong push to get applicants to comply with local regulations.

At times, council members seemed willing to go even further. Mayor Dean Grafos asked if vacant or undeveloped city property could be added to the buffer zone requirement.

“We designate all of these vacant or undeveloped parcels owned by everybody except the city of Spokane Valley,” Grafos said. No additions have been made, though.

As prospective retail operators have applied to the state for licensing, the city has been pointing out violations of the interim code, Lamb said.

Peterson received a letter last week that informed him his state application had been denied for a property at 16508 E. Sprague Ave. because it’s within the buffer zone of a proposed library location on South Conklin Road.

The city had denied his first location, 9827 E. Sprague, because it was also within 1,000 feet of a proposed library location near Balfour Park.

Spokane Valley voters said no earlier this year to a $22 million library bond, effectively leaving those lots vacant.

Peterson said the rules are “opening the door for a lawsuit.” After conversations with his attorney, he said he feels confident legal action against the city’s regulations would be successful.

He also said he knew at least five other processors and packagers who were considering lawsuits, which he said “would be a huge waste of taxpayer money” for the city to fight.

The city imposed the additional restrictions only after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a legal opinion earlier this year advising that he believes cities and counties have that authority.

Either way, Peterson said what’s most important to him is the customer service challenge of changing the face of an industry often derided for being in undesirable locations. With the legalization of recreational marijuana expanding the consumer market to people who might be turned off by the typical smoke shop vibe, he said, Peterson said he’s frustrated with the city repeatedly “forcing his hand” into that.

“We’re not going for your typical, what would be considered the ‘sketchy’ location, or anything that would be considered to draw on that ‘bad crowd,’ ” Peterson told council on Tuesday. “I want to change the way that that’s viewed.”

He said he wants a standalone location, which, unlike a strip mall, would ensure minors wouldn’t be easily able to walk by.

“This is the end of prohibition on marijuana, and we need to go ahead and let it happen,” Peterson said.


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