Hoquiam council flip-flops on marijuana ordinance

Marijuana businesses were legal in Hoquiam last night — for about five minutes.

After months of deliberation, it seemed as though the Hoquiam City Council had finally reached a decision. The council voted to allow pot production and processing businesses in industrial zones, and retail businesses in commercial and industrial areas.

But after learning that Councilwoman Kay Diem had voted in favor of the measure by mistake, the council called a revote.

“Excuse me that I don’t understand it,” Diem said. “I don’t know which way to go and I went the wrong way.”

The council considered four separate marijuana-related measures at the Monday meeting. One would allow marijuana businesses in certain areas of the city and ban collective gardens, another would allow city officials to issue licenses to marijuana businesses. The other two would have lifted existing moratoria on marijuana businesses and collective gardens to make way for the new ordinances.

Council members considered the zoning ordinance first and passed it with little discussion. Only five of 12 council members — John Pellegrini, Darrin Moir, Greg Grun, Paul McMillan and Bill Nelson — voted against the ordinance.

But to the bewilderment of Hoquiam staff and council members, Diem joined the dissenters in voting against the second measure. That vote resulted in a tie, and the measure failed.

City Attorney Steve Johnson explained that the two votes were contradictory. By passing the first measure and not the second, the council had essentially legalized the marijuana businesses but prohibited the city from issuing business licenses. The decision wouldn’t necessarily stop the businesses from operating, but the city wouldn’t be able to collect business and occupation taxes.

Mayor Jack Durney also questioned the decision.

“OK, friends, we’ll need to think about that,” Durney said. “I guess that’s the way the vote went.”

The council then began discussing the measure lifting the moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses, which has been in place for more than a year. McMillan urged the other council members to keep the moratorium in place, but Johnson said that was no longer an option.

“I just wanted to point out that you’ve already passed the zoning ordinance, so you pretty much have to lift the moratorium,” Johnson said.

McMillan said he believed that one of his fellow council members had mistakenly voted in favor of the zoning ordinance, and asked them to speak up so that the council could reconsider the issue. Diem conceded that she had made a mistake.

“I voted in favor of it, but I really wanted to vote against it,” Diem said.

Johnson explained that anyone who voted in favor of the first ordinance could legally move to reconsider the measure. Diem moved to reconsider, bringing the zoning ordinance back to the table.

Council President Jasmine Dickhoff asked her fellow council members if they could reach a compromise to amend and pass the ordinance. But Pellegrini, Moir, Grun, McMillan, Nelson and Diem each said no. Dickhoff called the incident an embarrassment, and said each council member had ample time to study the issue.

“This is the kind of thing everyone in the county is watching us do,” Dickhoff said.

“Anyone can make a mistake, and we can rectify that,” McMillan responded.

The revote ended in a tie and the ordinance failed.

However, the measure will likely come before the council again in two weeks. Councilman Ben Winkelman, a proponent of the zoning measure, asked Johnson to redraft the ordinance, making small wording changes. That required a vote of the council. The vote once again ended in a tie. But unlike in the case of an ordinance vote, Durney was allowed to break the tie. He sided with Winkelman, arguing that Hoquiam residents had voted in favor of legalizing marijuana in 2012, and that their wishes should be respected.

“I don’t think we should have another public discussion at this point,” Durney said. “I thought we should deal with what the public told us.”

The issue will come back to the table during the May 12 Hoquiam City Council meeting. Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month at Hoquiam City Hall.


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