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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Lake won’t allow marijuana sales at first

Pot plants meant to be sold at a dispensary in Colorado mature inside a grow house last month. (Associated Press)

Liberty Lake has joined the list of cities imposing moratoriums on recreational marijuana, while Spokane Valley may explore ways to add its own set of restrictions on opening any state-licensed pot shops.

The moves follow Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s conclusion earlier this month that the voter-approved law legalizing marijuana in Washington doesn’t prohibit cities and counties from banning pot if they want.

“There’s just too much confusion right now,” Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson said. “I think the moratorium, from the council’s perspective, is a way to recognize we need time to sort this out.”

Liberty Lake adopted its six-month moratorium last Tuesday. It joins Rockford, Fairfield and Airway Heights with temporary moratoriums in place. Stevens County also has a moratorium, as do college towns Pullman and Ellensburg.

A public hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 18 in Liberty Lake, one of the few communities where most voters opposed the statewide pot measure. Nonetheless, at least two companies already have applied for state licenses to sell marijuana in the upscale bedroom community.

In nearby Spokane Valley, city leaders are preparing for the potential arrival of legal pot shops as early as this spring but also discussing the possibility of adding local restrictions to those imposed by the state on where marijuana can be produced or sold.

Councilman Ben Wick, for example, suggested the city consider including 1,000-foot buffer zones around recreational trails and property identified for future schools. The state already prohibits pot shops within 1,000 feet of parks and existing schools.

No formal proposals have been developed, but the city anticipates further discussions in the near future.

Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard endorsed the idea, while Councilman Ed Pace expressed concern that no matter what kinds of regulations the city or state imposes, kids are still going to get their hands on drugs.

“Kids are still going to buy pot and scumbags are going to still sell to kids,” Pace said. “I know we’re not going to eliminate the illegal drug market because it hasn’t been done yet.”

The issue represents a balancing act for most politicians because voters made their position clear with the overwhelming approval of Initiative 502.

Additionally, cities and counties could risk losing state liquor tax revenue, under legislation being debated in Olympia, if they impede the emerging market.

The state has allocated 18 retail pot licenses for all of Spokane County, with eight dedicated to locations within the city of Spokane and three within Spokane Valley’s city limits. The other seven can be located anywhere throughout the county, and the state already has received more applications than licenses available. A lottery likely will determine which of the eligible applicants will actually get state licenses.

In Millwood, which lifted an earlier moratorium, city leaders are scheduled to meet today to review the attorney general’s advisory and discuss whether they want to revisit their positions. Nearly 60 percent of Millwood voters approved Initiative 502.

Spokane city leaders, on the other hand, are showing no hesitation.

They’ve created a regional task force, which met for the first time Monday, to help guide the transition into a legalized pot market.

“This passed by a very clear majority in the city of Spokane,” said Councilman Jon Snyder, who is leading the task force along with Councilman Mike Fagan. “I feel the message from the citizens is, ‘Dismantle the black market, make recreational marijuana legal.’ ”

Like many cities, Spokane has adopted zoning restrictions that prohibit pot operations in residential areas.

But the city has otherwise embraced the legal pot market.

Soon, for example, the new task force is expected to begin examining whether Spokane could benefit from a potential tourism boost as visitors arrive from out of state to take advantage of Washington’s recreational pot market.