Council to consider banning pot shops after work to let them in

Now that the Washington attorney general has put the option on the table, Bellevue councilmembers are considering whether to ban recreational marijuana businesses ahead of state-issued licenses.

The matter came up Monday when the council met to expand an emergency ordinance regulating zoning for selling, processing and producing marijuana in Bellevue for another six months past the April 21 expiration date.

Councilmembers expressed concern with the lack of public input on the process for the ordinance so far, despite a 59-percent approval vote of the people to Initiative 502 in 2012.

One resident spoke during Monday's public hearing for the extension, and his opinion was that the city should not let  pot businesses into Bellevue.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion in January that state municipalities have the choice of banning recreational marijuana businesses within their local jurisdictions. This opinion will not prevent the potential for legal action against cities that are doing so now or in the future.

Councilmember Conrad Lee said he is troubled by the tolerant attitude the city has taken with its acceptance of recreational marijuana. Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace said when the city was first dealing with the issue, a ban wasn't considered an option. Now that it is, he said he would support it.

Legal Planner Catherine Drews said the Washington State Liquor Control Board is still "weeding" out the 15, 22 and 56 applications for licensure for processing, producing and selling recreational marijuana respectively.

There are 13 different zones in which retail marijuana sales are allowed under the current emergency ordinance and the liquor control board has limited Bellevue to four such pot shops.

Licenses for growing and processing marijuana are not restricted in numbers issued. Drews said the availability of light industrial space should limit the numbers granted in Bellevue.

As the WSLCB anticipates pot shops will open up as soon as early this summer, Mayor Claudia Balducci emphasized the importance of extending the interim ordinance until the council has had time to weigh an option to ban recreational marijuana. If the ordinance was not extended, marijuana licenses would be granted in Bellevue without regulations in place. She said she supports the majority of Bellevue voters who approved I-502.

"We may not agree with what the voters did, but they did it," she said, "and that is what a democracy is."

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson requested also looking at banning collective gardens for medical marijuana patients, but said earlier in the meeting she is leaning toward honoring the will of Bellevue voters.

The federal government has stated it will leave Washington pot businesses alone for now, however, it will still be enforcing medical marijuana grow operations and dispensaries, she said.

The disconnect of medical and recreational marijuana is something Robertson said she'd hoped the state Legislature would have resolved before adjourning its session last week.

Robertson also proposed, and the council accepted, an amendment to the emergency ordinance that prevents pot shops from opening within 1,000 feet of each other. She said she didn't want to see a "Starbucks" situation but with a cluster of marijuana stores.

Freshmen Councilmember Lynne Robinson said she advocates  the use of medicinal marijuana for those needing it for controlling symptoms from illnesses, but does not feel Bellevue is the place for recreational marijuana.

"I don't think prohibition works," said Councilmember John Stokes. "It didn't work in the past."

Stokes said the city may as well look at bringing back prohibition of alcohol along with banning recreational marijuana businesses. The other option for Bellevue residents wanting to buy pot in the city would be illegally, which Stokes said is a whole other problem.





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