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Opinion

Pot ordinance tweak was fair play

Whether or not someone was trying to game the pot-licensing system, the Spokane City Council made the right call in passing an emergency ordinance so a business wouldn’t be unfairly blocked from opening.

Councilman Mike Fagan deserves credit for standing on principle and taking up the issue for marijuana retailer Smokane, despite his personal disdain for pot.

Smokane wanted to move its retail marijuana store to an East Spokane industrial park. The business went through the proper City Hall processes and received the required permits in August. In February, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board rejected Smokane’s license, because another business opened an arcade in the interim. The arcade was 600 feet away, or inside the city’s 1,000-foot buffer, which was established to keep pot businesses away from kid-oriented places.

The lease for the building that houses “Old Fashioned Fun Arcade” was signed in December, which is four months after Smokane secured its permits for its new location. The arcade consists of several video arcade games, pinball machines, a foosball table and a pingpong table. The caretaker is a former construction worker who likes to tinker with old arcade games. There’s no charge to play.

The registered agent for the corporation running the arcade denies trying to block Smokane’s move, but he has acknowledged filing a complaint with the state board over a signage issue.

Much like Pac-Man, the denial of the license is gobbling the investment Smokane made in its business. Fagan noted that the regular process for an ordinance could’ve taken up to a year. Letting the denial stand could invite other businesses to suddenly become kid-oriented to block the opening of a pot shop.

On Monday, the council voted to reduce the buffer between pot shops and arcades to 500 feet, which means Smokane can proceed with its move. Within 60 days, the council must have a hearing on the issue, and in six months it must decide whether it wants to keep the 500-foot buffer. Plus, there are other complications it might want to address. For instance, a pizza restaurant with games is not an arcade, according to the state. But it is, according to the city.

The council also will have to look at issues beyond the definition of “arcade.” Could a business suddenly stock books and call itself a library? The council can also determine whether other kid-oriented places need to be brought under the ordinance.

The state has reached its limit for granting pot licenses for the year, so no new businesses will be affected as the council works through these issues.

For now, the council’s decision has limited impact. It allows a business that followed the appropriate processes to open. Nobody seems interested in reducing the buffer across the board. In fact, council members reinforced the view that it serves a valuable purpose.

But fair is fair, and Smokane played by the rules.


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