Hoquiam could soon see recreational marijuana businesses cropping up in the city after the Hoquiam City Council voted Monday night to strike down an earlier measure banning pot businesses.
When Councilman Paul McMillan suggested the ban in January, a strong majority of council members — in addition to Mayor Jack Durney — supported it. But at Monday’s meeting, Durney and several other council members changed their positions.
“I would say that my opinion has evolved,” Durney said. “I’ve taken a look at what the voters said, and I’ve been following what the federal government does. The state would not be doing what they’re doing without the blessing of the federal government.”
The council began considering an ordinance in December as a means to regulate marijuana businesses in light of a voter-approved initiative legalizing pot. An early draft of the measure would have limited the businesses to industrial areas of the city.
With McMillan’s amendment, the ordinance would have banned all marijuana businesses within the city limits until the substance is declared legal at the federal level. Only Councilman Ben Winkelman and Councilwoman Jasmine Dickhoff voted against the amendment.
Since then, the measure has been a topic of debate at council meetings, and resurfaced at Monday’s meeting as council members reviewed a decision by Hearing Examiner Eric Toews, who conducted a hearing March 20.
Toews ruled that a citywide ban on marijuana businesses would, in fact, be legal under city code, in addition to state and federal law. The ban would also comply with Initiative 502, the 2012 voter-passed measure legalizing recreational marijuana.
“The Hearing Examiner finds that effectively prohibiting the production, processing and retailing of marijuana … within the City of Hoquiam does not materially impede access to residents of the City of Hoquiam to such facilities located elsewhere, and is therefore consistent with I-502 and its implementing regulations,” the decision read.
But Winkelman argued that even though the measure was legal, it still wasn’t right, pointing out that a majority of Hoquiam voters voted in favor of I-502. Councilman Richard Pennant agreed, asking the other council members not to base their votes on their moral preferences.
“I just don’t see what the big deal is here,” Pennant said. “It’s 2014, people.”
Pennant had previously abstained from all marijuana-related discussions and votes, as he was under consideration for a marijuana retail licence. He recently withdrew his application.
Councilman Darrin Moir disagreed, arguing that it would be unwise for the city to issue marijuana business licences while the substance is still illegal at the national level. He said the federal government could get angry and retaliate by taking away grant money.
“The federal government has helped us with every major capital project we’ve done in this city,” Moir said.
At previous meetings, Durney expressed similar concerns, but said Monday that he’s no longer worried.
“It seems like if the federal government was really opposed to this, we would have got some sort of cease and desist notice,” Durney said.
Only McMillan and Moir voted in favor of the ban.
The council will discuss an ordinance allowing marijuana businesses in some areas of the city at an April 28 meeting. City council meetings are held at Hoquiam City Hall at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month.