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Proposal to ban marijuana with strong alcohol gets public hearing in Spokane

Incorporating marijuana into a state law that allows cities to ban the sale of strong alcoholic drinks in certain neighborhoods is the latest legislative suggestion to limit the pot industry.

The proposal is unlikely to affect where pot shops can be located in downtown Spokane, despite lengthy testimony Thursday from neighbors worried about a new store near the Roman Catholic cathedral.

On Thursday state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, headed a discussion on the proposal, which also included Spokane law enforcement director Jim McDevitt, members of the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board and parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral.

The Lucky Leaf pot store near the cathedral opened in March and has generated nearly $67,000 in sales.

“Selling marijuana, so close to our parish, we believe, will continue to expand the deterioriation of that particular neighborhood,” said Mary Haugen, president of the Pastoral Council at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Even if the proposal were to become law, it’s unlikely it would have any effect in Spokane.

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who attended Thursday’s summit, said he knew there was no political will from the current council to limit pot sales downtown.

“This is going to be a 6-to-1 decision,” Fagan said, citing a recent meeting by council members with Mayor David Condon in which City Council President Ben Stuckart made it clear that efforts to limit pot sales downtown would be a nonstarter.

Stuckart, who did not attend the meeting, said he’d asked for data to show that Spokane’s five operating marijuana stores caused a spike in crime. What he received did not indicate city officials should target pot shops, he said.

“If someone can show me data, that there’s harm from legal marijuana, I will consider changing anything,” Stuckart said. “But nobody’s been able to show me that. If there’s no problem, what are we trying to solve?”

McDevitt told members of the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce, who joined Baumgartner, Fagan and Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, for the summit, that the Spokane Police Department hadn’t produced a report on the marijuana industry and crime, but that it has the tools to do so.

Fagan said there were problems with the suggestion to add churches to a section of state law that creates 1,000-foot “buffer zones” around buildings where pot can’t be sold, such as schools and libraries. That proposal has been touted by many, including Alexander Kaprian, the pastor and founder of the Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, who has raised concerns about another proposed pot shop on Second Street.

“We have well over 400 churches,” Fagan said.

Fagan, who presided over several community meetings ahead of the implementation of legal marijuana sales in summer 2014, said church members were expressing concerns “way, way late” in the process. But that didn’t mean their voices shouldn’t be heard, he said.

“The bottom line here is these folks put us where we are as elected officials, and they are appealing to us that this is impacting their quality of life,” Fagan said. “Do we just pooh-pooh that? No. That’s not our job.”

Baumgartner said he believed additional legislation might be needed to lengthen the amount of time people can weigh in on new marijuana business licenses, which is currently 20 days. Also, he said the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board should take “proactive” steps to inform neighbors a marijuana store is moving in.

“Instead of just posting on a sign, everyone within 1,000 feet or 2,000 feet ought to get notice in the mail,” Baumgartner said.

Lucky Leaf’s co-owners, David and Shilo Morgan, also testified Thursday, saying they felt vilified by a portion of the community simply for trying to set up a business.

“I didn’t anticipate coming to Spokane to have to fight everybody,” said Shilo Morgan, as her voice caught and tears welled in her eyes. “I came here to start a new thing with my family.”

John Ahern, a former state representative, has been part of protest efforts outside the downtown store. He told the panel it made sense to pair regulations on alcohol with marijuana.

“You got one rattlesnake in your bed, that’s booze,” Ahern said. “Why throw a second rattlesnake in your bed? That’s marijuana.”

But Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said much of the testimony from marijuana opponents Thursday focused on issues beyond the drug.

“I think some of it might be based in some preconceived notions about what marijuana or cannabis does, because most of the examples I’ve heard cited here are not necessarily marijuana-related,” he said. “In fact, a lot of them seem to be unrecognized mental health issues.”


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