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Poulsbo bans recreational-marijuana businesses, collective gardens

The Poulsbo City Council voted unanimously to ban recreational marijuana businesses, and medical marijuana operations within city limits June 11. - File photo
The Poulsbo City Council voted unanimously to ban recreational marijuana businesses, and medical marijuana operations within city limits June 11.
— image credit: File photo

POULSBO — You can smoke 'em if you got 'em, but you won't be buying marijuana within the city limits of Poulsbo.

The Poulsbo City Council voted unanimously to ban recreational marijuana businesses, and medical marijuana operations within city limits.

"Honestly, I'm not really surprised. I anticipated that it would have happened," said Poulsbo resident Branden Heinemann shortly after the vote. "I don't agree with it."

Heinemann was one of approximately 25 people in the council chambers during a public hearing on the matter during the council's June 11 meeting. The council considered interim regulations, crafted in August 2013, which zoned marijuana businesses in a small corner at the north end of the city. Medical marijuana collective gardens were also included in the regulations. If the council voted to let the regulations sunset, then previous laws already on the books would come into effect. Those laws ban such businesses.

That is how Poulsbo banned marijuana businesses.

Heinemann, along with a crowd gathered outside City Hall after the vote, largely objected to the general attitude expressed by city officials, and the vote.

"People have this perception that Cheech and Chong are showing up in Poulsbo to buy a big doobie," he said.

"It's making assumptions about the demographic, that we are just Doritos-eating, mindless idiots that just like to smoke pot," he said. "That's not fair. That doesn't represent the reality."

Considerations

The council cited a range of reasons to ban the businesses from the notion that there would be no economic benefit to the city, and lingering legal questions that could put the city at risk, to more personal, moral reasons.

"I don't object to free enterprise and I support the use of medical marijuana, but I'm not feeling under the gun that we need to provide place for entrepreneurs to make money," Councilwoman Connie Lord said during the hearing. "I doubt it will bring in much revenue. The point is what is best for our citizens, our children. What kind of message are we sending our kids if we said, 'Hey, no problem.'"

Councilman Ed Stern noted that while recreational marijuana is taxed at 25 percent at each level of the industry — producer, processor and retailer — cities receive no cut. All the tax money goes to the state.

"The state Legislature decided to keep 100 percent of the excise tax for its own coffers," Stern said. "Not a penny to the 281 cities, of which Poulsbo is one, that is considering allowing recreational marijuana. There is no precedent for it. The action of the state, in my opinion, is wrong. I don't think it's right that this city, or any city, roll over in the face of a breach of trust."

Stern continued to note the city's cut of any sales tax from the recreational market would be small and inconsequential.

Voices

The public also had a chance to weigh in before the council voted. Susan Ogilvie rose to speak. She lives between where the zoning would have allowed the businesses and Snider Park. She noted that "dozens" of children pass through the area to use the park.

"Nobody's talking about the actual property," she said. "Viking [Way] is a dead-end road and we live on 10 acres that's been in our family for 74 years."

Ogilvie said her property could be devalued as much as 50 percent if a marijuana business set up shop nearby. The ban is not about restricting medical marijuana, she said.

"This isn't a lack of compassion," she said. "This is asking for you to say 'no' because it is for the good of the community. We are people here who are raising our children."

Others spoke in the same vein, claiming that marijuana is addictive and a gateway into more serious drugs.

But on the other side of the issue were entrepreneurs and other supporters of marijuana.

Heinemann, a veteran of the Navy, argued for marijuana businesses and medical marijuana. He said that while he voted against I-502, the legislation that legalized recreational marijuana in Washington state, he feels that the council should vote in accordance with the will of voters.

Heinemann started using marijuana because of medical reasons, after leaving the military. He said he thinks access to the drug closer to home would be beneficial to residents such as himself.

"I didn't use pot all through high school, and obviously the whole time I was in the Navy. I was on a submarine so I couldn't if I wanted to," he said after the vote. "I didn't try pot until after I got out of the Navy. I had some digestive issues, and somebody recommended that I give it a shot. And I had a positive experience."

Brian Meyers, a Marine veteran and aspiring entrepreneur, said marijuana businesses would benefit the local economy through sales taxes and various utility fees.

While he touted the benefits of the recreational market, Meyers said he started using the drug because of medical reasons and that access to it is important. He prefers marijuana to opiate-based medication.

"I myself have had back problems since the military," he said. "I don't like Vicodin and Oxycontin. I don't want to use those drugs. I would rather have something natural that relieves pain in a nice, simple way."

And another medical marijuana user rose to speak.

"There are way too many overwhelming facts to the benefits of cannabis," said Jesup Lowery, a former Poulsbo resident now living in Bainbridge. "I don't condone the use of recreational drugs in general. I am a medical marijuana user myself. I never thought I would come to that point. I am a father of five children."

"I think that to not support it, to look away from all the facts and the benefits, it just doesn't make sense," he said. "Alcohol is a lot of more dangerous than marijuana will ever be."

He added, "When I look up here, honestly, I feel you all already have your minds made up. It's a little frustrating. What I'm observing is that people have a tendency look at what they know about marijuana and not really make an educated decision."

The City Council had other voices from the community to consider as well. Jan Harrison, executive director of the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce, sent council members an email on the afternoon of June 11. The chamber polled its members to gauge opinion on allowing recreational marijuana businesses in town.

"The final tally was 35 in favor of not allowing any (marijuana) businesses at this time; five allowing, but out of sight; nine allowing in plain sight to be monitored; and two had no opinion," Harrison wrote.

"Not highly scientific, but likely a good indication of where the business community comes down on this," she further commented. "Remember, the vast majority of the people in the room today do not live in Poulsbo city limits, but do business in greater Poulsbo. So this is not likely to be a 'don't want it near my kids' kind of vote."

Poulsbo's ban

Use of recreational marijuana in Poulsbo will be allowed according to state law. Poulsbo's ban regards businesses that deal with recreational marijuana — producers, processors and retailers. It also bans collective gardens for medical marijuana.

When the City Council approved the interim regulations in 2013, it was under the impression that the city was required to craft codes to accommodate the passing of I-502. However, a January 2014 opinion issued by the state attorney general changed that impression. Instead, jurisdictions were advised that they could enact bans on marijuana businesses.

But the issue of recreational marijuana businesses in Poulsbo may be moot altogether. Kitsap County is allowed a total of 10 retail businesses; Bremerton gets two, Bainbridge Island gets one, and the remainder of the county receives seven. The state's liquor control board, charged with regulating recreational marijuana, held a lottery to decide which applicants would receive retail licenses in the county. No Poulsbo applicants were near the top 10, making it rather unlikely that any retailer will be considered in the city anyway.

It was a point that Councilman David Musgrove spoke to.

"Once I came to realize how the licensing is being done, as much information as we have, as emotional as we might be and the feelings we might have, I don't know how to phrase this, but it doesn't really matter," he said

"We won't have one here," Musgrove added. "If you want one here, it won't be here. If you don't want one here, congratulations, it won't be here."

A vote to essentially ban the businesses could be a statement to the state regarding the tax structure of the recreational market and the lack of sharing with local jurisdictions forced deal with it, Musgrove said.

"We are rejecting this because we don't want to take any more state mandates that are unfunded," he said.

I-502 passed within Kitsap County in 2012 with 56 percent approval. A total of 122,928 county voters took part in the vote. Locally, of Poulsbo's six precincts, three voted in favor of I-502 — 59, 53 and 52 percent. Two precincts were split at 50 percent. One precinct voted 47 percent in favor.

Overall, Poulsbo's residents approved the legalization of recreational marijuana by 52 percent.

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