The Hoquiam City Council appears poised to impose an outright ban of marijuana businesses — at least until Congress passes legislation to legalize recreational marijuana nationally or the United States Supreme Court rules that Washington’s decision to legalize pot is, in fact, legal.
Since December, the city has been considering an ordinance to regulate marijuana in light of Washington voters’ decision in 2012 to legalize the substance. The pending Hoquiam ordinance would limit marijuana producing, processing and retail businesses to industrial areas of the city, but at a Monday city council meeting, Councilman Paul McMillan proposed an amendment banning the business within city limits until federal law is changed.
The amendment passed with only two votes against: Council President Jasmine Dickhoff and Councilman Ben Winkelman.
“As a former history teacher, I know that the federal law always trumps state law,” McMillan said.
Before a final vote by the council, the public will have a chance to comment on the amended ordinance at a public hearing. The hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled.
Mayor Jack Durney agreed with McMillan, arguing that the legality of a Hoquiam marijuana business depends on more than just state law. Hoquiam city code says all businesses within city limits must comply with both state and federal law. Durney said he’s also concerned about actions of future congresses and United States Attorneys General.
Current Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that he wouldn’t enforce the federal marijuana ban in Washington and Colorado, the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. However, without a change in the law, there’s no guarantee that his successors would have the same policy.
Durney said he recognizes that Hoquiam voters supported legalizing marijuana. Initiative 502 was approved in all wards of the city.
“I feel the public has spoken on what they want to do,” Durney said. “But we also have an issue with initiatives that aren’t drafted correctly, or completely thought through.”
“I think that we need a little more time to hear from the public,” Dickhoff said. “We had a public hearing at the planning commission meeting last week, and no one showed up to talk. But I think we need more of a compromise between the state law and federal law.”
Dickhoff didn’t agree with McMillan and Durney regarding the weight of federal law. She said states should have the right to create their own laws based on the opinions of residents.
“It’s always going to be a battle (between states’ rights and federal law),” Dickhoff said. “I understand Paul’s position, but people could easily say, ‘Why did we spend the money to go out and vote?’”
Councilman John Pellegrini argued that while states are given the ability to create their own laws, those laws must also comply with federal laws. He used air and water quality regulations as an example: the federal government enacted standards for air and water through the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. States are free to enact their own standards — as long as these standards are as strict or stricter than the federal regulations.
A third member of the council, newly-elected Councilman Richard Pennant, abstained from voting on the amendment at the urging of Durney. Pennant recently applied for a marijuana retail license in Hoquiam, and Durney argued that it would be improper for him to discuss the subject or vote, given that he could gain financially if the council voted down the amendment. Pennant didn’t vote, but disagreed with Durney’s contention that he shouldn’t talk about the issue. He attempted to share the results of the I-502 vote. “I’m in a position to point out some election votes,” Pennant said. “Is that a problem?”
Pennant also said he disagreed with McMillan’s amendment.