More than three dozen people — roughly half of them connected to city government — turned up at the Aberdeen Rotary Log Pavilion Wednesday night to hash over options for commercial marijuana sales in Aberdeen. The meeting was a chance to give feedback to the Planning Commission before it makes a final recommendation to the City Council, and several council members were present.
About a dozen of those present have direct vested interests in marijuana sales in Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County. Some are not residents of Aberdeen but have applied to the state for licenses to grow as well as process and sell marijuana.
The meeting was requested by the city council, which has passed an interim ordinance allowing production, processing and retail sales of pot only in light industrial and industrial areas. The ordinance also bans collective gardens used to grow medical marijuana. Several of the people present hold medical marijuana cards.
The state Liquor Control board has yet to approve any licenses. Aberdeen has been allocated one retail license, Hoquiam is likely to pass on the opportunity. One is allowed Ocean Shores and three more retail licenses have been allocated to unincorporated areas of the county. More licenses are allowed for production and processing.
Most members of the public at the meeting seemed to overwhelmingly support allowing retail outlets in commercial zones located downtown, on the waterfront and in historic areas. Some even want production and processing to be allowed anywhere in the city but residential areas.
Andrew LaFontain was the first speaker. He warned against hash (a concentrated form of marijuana) and oils infused with marijuana, then launched into support for “the HUGE economic opportunity” pot sales present for Aberdeen.
Glen Ramiskey, who along with his wife Andrea owns the former state liquor store building next to the Morck Hotel on Heron Street, reiterated previous support for zoning for marijuana in Aberdeen. He is a possible landlord to a prospective retailer.
The Pugsleys, a couple who have applied at two prospective locations on the outskirts of Aberdeen, spoke in favor of leaving the ordinance as is. Leann Pugsley thought retail pot sales should be kept in the industrial zones until the city has “time to observe the effects.”
East County-based attorney Chris Crew, who has applied for a retail license in Porter as well as Aberdeen, spoke passionately about the merits of putting pot operations in commercial areas, “bringing it out of the shadows and into the light … so that it can be the income generator you want it to be.” He pointed to record pot sales and tax revenue gains in Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been sold for close to a month.
Sherri Karl, who has spoken out at council meetings about the prevalence of drug addiction, said she’d rather see marijuana users about town than open alcoholism and people on harder drugs.
Mayor Bill Simpson and Police Chief Bob Torgerson made no comments. Seven members of the council were present: Tim Alstrom, Tawni Andrews, Jeff Cook, Kathi Hoder, Alice Phelps, Margo Shortt and Jerry Mills. Several asked questions or made observations.
Several council members who did not support the state law have said that because the recreational pot measure passed in all six of the city’s wards they are willing to allow it.
Cook requested that the city zoning map provided to the audience be changed to improve distinctions between the zoned areas. City Attorney Eric Nelson recommended against attaching conditional use provisions on this zoning issue. Prospective licensee Dan Meldrich also opposed any conditional use restrictions that would add review and regulation by the Board of Adjustment.
Elizabeth James of The Crow’s Green Garden, asked those present to remember history and said that growing marijuana was how farmers in the Wynooche Valley survived in 1925. Ray Humphrey, a prospective grower who just moved here from Olympia, said pot would become more legitimized when recreational sale is allowed.
The commission’s positions stayed the same as expressed previously. Chairman Brian Little is the only member in favor of allowing all types of pot operations in commercial as well as industrial zones. John Martinsen still supports limiting all three operations to industrial areas, while being against marijuana entirely.
The others: Elaine Redner, Jamie Judkins, Monika Kuhnau and vice chairman Randy Ross support allowing retail operations in most commercial zones and production and processing in industrial zones.
The meeting began on a lighthearted note when Little welcomed everyone to “The Pot Party” and pointed people to tables where coffee as well as “munchies” such as packaged chocolate cupcakes, bags of chips and crispy cheesy snacks were on offer.
Ballots about what marijuana operation to locate in which zone were filled out by attendees. Community Development Director Lisa Scott will tally the ballots. Judkins plans to post a simplified ballot on the Planning Commission’s Facebook page, Scott said. The commission will then recommend on the findings to the council and Nelson who will draw up a new permanent ordinance.
Scott said she plans to submit it for a vote at the council meeting on Feb. 26.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, email@example.com. Twitter: @DW_Erin