July 24, 2014 in Washington Voices

Valley City Council restricts pot business sites

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Prospective pot entrepreneurs are warning that Spokane Valley’s new restrictions on state-licensed marijuana operations could hamper the fledgling industry’s success and limit the city’s share of expected tax revenue.

But city leaders, who adopted the restrictions Tuesday night, are defending the move, saying it still provides ample opportunities for legal marijuana operations while protecting areas of the Valley where children and families gather.

“I think for the city of Spokane Valley it’s the right balance,” Mayor Dean Grafos said of the local restrictions that go beyond state-mandated protections and buffer zones.

Most notably, the city’s new zoning restrictions prohibit retail marijuana operations within 1,000 feet of the Centennial Trail and the planned Appleway Trail, which renders much of Sprague Avenue off limits.

Also now off limits to Valley pot retailers are locations near City Hall or any other city-owned property intended for future municipal operations, as well as land identified for future schools, parks and libraries. State law already requires 1,000-foot buffer zones around existing schools, libraries and parks.

Several would-be pot entrepreneurs say the Valley’s additional restrictions have made it difficult to find suitable locations for retail operations.

Justin Peterson, chosen by the state to receive one of the three designated retail operations in the Valley, said the additional local restrictions have disqualified the planned location for his store in what he describes as an ideal standalone building along Sprague that’s now too close to a future library branch and recreational trail.

Although the city has yet to provide any maps showing where retail operations now would be permitted, Peterson said an initial search indicates marijuana retailers are largely limited to less-desirable parts of the city. Robust sales would mean greater sales tax revenue for the city, he said, estimating the Valley would receive nearly $227,000 a year in local-option revenue.

“If we’re allowed to build in a better, state approved area, we can sell more,” Peterson said. “If you push us out or force us in to bad areas, we will not be able to bring in those taxes.”

Additionally, the state assesses hefty excise taxes at the production and retail levels as well, and legislation pending in Olympia would prohibit the sharing of that revenue with cities that ban or severely restrict marijuana operations, he said.

Steven Burks, another retailer approved by the state for one of the Valley’s licenses, said they’ve had two planned locations rendered unusable by the city’s additional restrictions. Another problem, he said, has been finding available commercial space in areas of the city where retail marijuana operations would be allowed.

The local restrictions are being blamed for why no retail operations have yet opened in the Valley, while other cities such as Spokane already have locations open. Some are contemplating a potential legal challenge to the additional Valley restrictions, saying the existing voter-approved state laws already provides numerous safeguards.

City Manager Mike Jackson said city staff will work with prospective marijuana entrepreneurs to help identify potential locations that would meet all zoning restrictions, just as they do with any business looking to locate or expand in the Valley.

“We’re happy to assist the retailers, processors and producers in finding a location,” Jackson said.


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