Spokane County consumers spent more than $1 million on marijuana in November, but that didn’t stop the business-friendly Spokane Valley City Council from passing a moratorium on all marijuana businesses – other than retail, production and processing operations that are already licensed by the state – at its meeting Tuesday evening.
The moratorium was not on the council agenda published before the meeting.
City staff said an increase in marijuana-related DUIs created a public health emergency, and that’s why the moratorium could be introduced and adopted without public notice.
“We have seen an explosion of DUIs before it was legal to buy and since,” said council member Arne Woodard.
The moratorium took effect immediately after a unanimous vote. Councilman Bill Bates was absent.
Spokane Valley police Chief Rick VanLeuven recently told the City Council and the Washington Legislature that his department has seen a rapid rise in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana: from 17 in 2012, to 43 in 2013 and 48 through October of this year.
Spokane Valley City Council has repeatedly discussed banning both medical and recreational marijuana. City manager Mike Jackson said the moratorium is intended to curb marijuana businesses that are not regulated by the state’s Liquor Control Board. Medical marijuana dispensaries, vapor lounges, communal grow operations and private smoking rooms are not regulated by the Liquor Control Board.
Jackson said the moratorium was introduced this way because the city didn’t want a flood of last-minute business applications.
Deputy city attorney Eric Lamb said medical dispensaries already operating in Spokane Valley will not be affected by the moratorium, but he refused to answer medical dispensary owner Sean Green when Green asked what would happen to his planned business.
“I just signed a 20-year contract for the building I’m going to be using,” Green said. “What’s going to happen to that?”
Green owns Pacific Northwest Medical Supply – a medical marijuana business. He and a handful of marijuana business owners and supporters scrambled to City Hall to testify against the moratorium Tuesday night.
After the moratorium debate was over he said he was nervous about his future.
“We have been working on getting our business under one roof for quite some time,” Green said. “I have meetings with the city coming up, but I don’t know what this means.”
Several people testified against the moratorium – only one person spoke in support of it.
Spokane Valley resident Tim Finnegan urged the council to take a closer look at the language in the moratorium.
“I oppose it the way it’s written,” Finnegan said. “I use medical marijuana for the THC because I don’t want to take narcotics.” Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.
Finnegan said it cost him $200 to get his medical marijuana prescription and that no matter where he’s picked up his marijuana at a dispensary, his documentation has been checked very carefully.
“Let’s segregate out the medical dispensaries for those who have legitimate medical uses,” Finnegan said.
Valley resident Heather Graham was the only person in the audience speaking in support of the moratorium.
“This does not limit Mr. Finnegan from getting his medicine,” Graham said. “The City Council should take into consideration what new data is coming forward.” She added that schools also need time to adjust to increased availability of marijuana.
“Teenagers and young kids shouldn’t be smoking this,” Graham said. Under state law, individuals must be 21 or older to use recreational marijuana.
The moratorium requires a public hearing within 60 days, after which the city can maintain it or change it. The hearing will be during the City Council meeting on Jan. 27.
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