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Police preparing for uncertain enforcement demands from recreational pot biz | Pot shop opening on 130th not welcome to several neighbors
Colorado may be ahead of Washington in regulated marijuana sales, but Bellevue Interim Police Chief Jim Montgomery said there is little to glean from law enforcement colleagues in the Rocky Mountain state about how to approach enforcement once pot shops start opening around the city.
Montgomery recently reached out to Colorado law enforcement colleagues through the Benchmark Cities Association to find best practices being used to tackle the new industry.
"Unfortunately, it didn't get us a whole lot of information because a majority of those cities continued a moratorium," Montgomery told the Reporter.
He told the Bellevue Planning Commission as much on Wednesday. Montgomery said the city of Boulder, Colo., reported taking a stricter approach to its enforcement, performing public outreach and making sure there are visible patrols near where recreational marijuana businesses operate. The city reports no significant spike in crime since the shops there opened, he said. The city of Denver reported a greater increase in crime and a less aggressive approach to enforcement than Boulder's. That's "apples and oranges," Montgomery said, because Denver typically has a higher crime rate than Boulder, known for being a university community.
The police chief said he expects Bellevue officers will take a page from Boulder's book, ensuring there is a strong police presence near pot shops to discourage illegal behavior at the onset of recreational marijuana sales. He added he's confident his current staff will be able to keep the peace once business starts rolling, but if there is a drain on staff time, he may consider dedicating an officer to those enforcement efforts full time.
He told commissioners Wednesday he would not speculate as to whether crime in Bellevue will be worse once pot shops open or if his department's enforcement plan will be adequate.
"Only time will tell if it's enough," he said, later declining to weigh in on talks of a moratorium. "Everybody has an opinion on that, and mine isn't any better than anyone else's."
What is concerning to the police chief are marijuana-infused products and concentrates, he said, because they contain higher amounts of THC than a user will consume by smoking leafy marijuana. To illustrate his point, Montgomery showed the commission an ounce of marijuana taken from evidence, a bag of gummy bears, brownies and a 2-liter soda bottle. In Washington, it is legal to possess up to 72 ounces of liquid-infused marijuana products, such as hash oil, and 16 ounces of infused edible products.
"This is gonna be a big problem if that becomes really trendy," Montgomery told the Reporter.
The Bellevue Police Department is also one part of a city task force assembled to assess the best education and public safety practices to coincide with the opening of recreational marijuana stores here. Other members include staff from parks, planning, fire and the city attorney.
POT SHOP OWNER FACING NEGATIVE NEIGHBORS
Many business owners along 130th Avenue Northeast were unaware a recreational marijuana retailer was setting up shop near them until Chris McAboy found himself fighting the Washington State Liquor Control Board, eventually convincing the agency the location he'd selected for The Novel Tree did not violate separation rules because the Girl Scouts of Western Washington does not qualify as a recreation center.
Maison de France owner Blaise Bouchand has been trumpeting a campaign to not only block The Novel Tree from opening on 130th, but an outright ban of recreational marijuana business in the city. He and others in the neighborhood contend the store will expose children in the area to criminal elements and is not a right fit among places like the Blue Sky Church, the Girl Scouts, Little Gym and others.
"We are not a junky city. We are a healthy city," Bouchand told the planning commission on Wednesday. "We are a city in a park."
Terry Olson said she also opposes having The Novel Tree open across from her Unique Art Glass business, and is concerned about children coming into contact with infused products that look like candy and not knowing the difference. Chiropractor Fred Chard said he also opposes the pot shop's opening near his practice, and believes it may cause more robberies and burglaries in the area, and not just at The Novel Tree.
Commercial broker Ann Bishop of Wallace Properties — representing herself as Ann Lampman — said allowing recreational marijuana businesses into Bellevue could have a negative impact to the commercial property market in the city. It started when she began receiving calls from entrepreneurs seeking to lease commercial space for their recreational marijuana businesses.
"One hundred percent of the time, those (property) owners have refused to entertain that business in their complex," Bishop said, adding tenants of properties she's surveyed also say a pot store opening near them would discourage them from renewing their leases. "If you lose one tenant, then you lose another tenant, and then it continues. … I am concerned about recreational marijuana becoming a threat to occupancy."
McAboy told the planning commission on Wednesday he takes offense to people like Bouchand calling him a drug dealer, and that term refers to an unlicensed pot seller. He has passed the liquor control board's review, he said, and is ready for licensure. McAboy told the Reporter he also signed a lease at 1817 130th Ave. N.E. earlier that day.
"We are all systems go, pending the land use codes stay the way it is," he said.
McAboy said concerns about security and potential criminal activity at and around his shop are unfounded, and his business will include numerous security cameras inside and out. There will also be security doors and a safe room for his products. After spending a week visiting with numerous marijuana retailers in Denver, McAboy said he did not hear reports of robberies and burglaries occurring at those stores.
"The most dangerous aspect of marijuana is prohibition itself," he said.
The Novel Tree is just one of four recreational marijuana stores the liquor control board will allow to be licensed in Bellevue. The WSLCB expects to green light businesses to open by July 8, but McAboy tells the Reporter delays with the control board's ruling on his location has pushed The Novel Tree's opening to late August.