Poulsbo may ban pot businesses

POULSBO — Poulsbo’s City Council has considered interim regulations for the emerging recreational marijuana market for nearly 10 months, and will soon vote to either make the codes permanent or go back to the drawing board.

But the council may be presented with another approach to codifying recreational marijuana within the city — banning it.

“What we are talking about here would specifically disallow the commercial distribution of marijuana in Poulsbo,” Councilman David Musgrove said at a

May 28 meeting of the council’s economic development committee.

Specifically, what the committee discussed was the possible prohibition of both medical and recreational marijuana within the city limits, should it vote to let the interim regulations expire.

The committee discussed the city’s interim marijuana regulations, and the future of the market in Poulsbo with city planning staff. Three members of the council were present, Musgrove, Ed Stern and Linda Berry-Mariast, as well as Mayor Becky Erickson.

The City Council as a whole will hold a hearing on the interim marijuana regulations, currently in place, on June 11, and possibly vote to make them permanent or not. The committee aimed to discuss the matter from an economic angle, prior to the June 11 hearing.

“I’m wondering if, from an economic development standpoint, if marijuana — recreational or medical — is desirable from our perspective,” Stern said.

“I’m hearing from planning, from their standpoint, there is no economic value,” he later added. “I also hear that we are no longer required to allow something rather than nothing.”

Stern pointed out that the council initially approved the regulations with the impression that local jurisdictions were required to do so in the wake of the passing of I-502, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Washington. The council therefore understood that a local ban was not allowed.

The City Council passed interim marijuana regulations in August 2013. The interim regulations zoned all marijuana businesses — whether retail, producer, or processor — in a small, but largely undeveloped corner at the north end of the city.

But now, after a Jan. 16 opinion from the state’s attorney general that says local laws can ban marijuana businesses, the council has another approach to consider.

The council won’t have to take any steps toward a ban, if it decides to take that approach. Rather, when faced with making current interim regulations permanent, it would simply vote it down. If the regulations do not continue, they will sunset after a year, leaving in place regulations already on the books in Poulsbo. The established code does not allow for any such operation — recreational or medicinal — to locate within the city limits.

If a ban on marijuana businesses does happen, Poulsbo will join a handful of Washington jurisdictions to implement one. Yakima, Wenatchee, and Mossyrock are among that handful. Clark and Pierce counties have also banned marijuana businesses.

While use of the now legal drug — by state law; federal law still bans it — will be permitted, local codes will be as if I-502 never passed, and Poulsbo will not participate in the recreational marijuana economy.

But that participation is not entirely attractive to some at City Hall. At the May 28 meeting, staff informed the three present council members that there is no economic benefit to the city from a recreational market.

“Last I heard there was no (economic) benefit,” said Planning Director Barry Berezowsky. “You might sell more Doritos and pop, but all the tax revenue goes to the state; there is no sharing revenue.”

Berezowsky said that there could be economic benefit to other parts of the state, but the way taxes are set up for recreational marijuana, no funds are shared locally.

“There will be marijuana tours,” Berezowsky said. “They will pick up people from the airport, and it won’t be one of those duck tour buses, it will be a big doober, and they will make some money.”

Councilman Musgrove said that, in his personal opinion, Washington has the potential to draw in others from out of state to spend money in the marijuana market, comparing it to fireworks stands on reservations. But most tourism for marijuana will happen in Seattle, he said, or near ferry terminals, such as Bainbridge Island.

The committee also briefly discussed other possible zoning for marijuana. Stern said that he previously considered areas zoned for offices as a possible location to place retail operations, as well as the area toward the south end of Viking Avenue. But now, with another option on the table, he may lean toward a ban. But he is only one vote, he said.

Mayor Erickson also commented on the positioning of any recreational marijuana operation other than at the north end of the city.

“My feeling, I don’t see any reason to expand where it is (at the north end),” Erickson said. “I don’t think we want the south end of Viking (Avenue) for marijuana sales. It’s struggling enough as it is.”

“It does concern me. We’ve been dealing with addictive substances and they’ve caused some problems in our community,” she added. “I don’t want to get into the debate of wether this is a gateway drug, but I know that law enforcement almost universally opposes this. And neighbors have reached out to me and they don’t want it.”

Berezowski also said that a ban may be the safest legal position the city could take, as the recreational market is ironed out at the state level. He also said that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and it could be safer for the city to wait and see how federal authorities will react to the market as it emerges. Should Poulsbo desire to change regulations, or a ban, in the future, it can return to the issue after time has passed and state and federal authorities have reacted to the new market, Berezowski said.

While the cornering of marijuana operations at the north end of the city made such businesses unlikely in Poulsbo, the recent retail lottery held by the state’s liquor control board made that likelihood even less. No Poulsbo applicants made the top ten slated to receive a license in the county. Kitsap County will receive 10 retail licenses total, only seven of those will be available to Kitsap County entrepreneurs, including Poulsbo.

Berezowski said that the only retail applicant within the city of Poulsbo was located at the south end of Viking Avenue, outside of the permitted zone.

“I can assure you that the residents of Poulsbo, if they are looking for recreational marijuana, they won’t be buying it in Poulsbo,” he said.

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