Hoquiam renews pot prohibitions

Hoquiam city officials say they are in a holding pattern while the state develops rules for growing, selling and processing marijuana and last night the City Council extended a moratorium on marijuana businesses. Another moratorium outlawing collective gardens for medical marijuana was also extended.

The moratoria will be in place for another six months, said City Attorney Steve Johnson, but they could be revoked when the state enacts a set of clear guidelines for Initiative 502, a voter-passed measure legalizing marijuana in Washington.

Meanwhile, Johnson said, the city staff is in the process of determining where marijuana businesses won’t be allowed, based on proximity to schools and parks, but concrete city regulations won’t be made until the state Liquor Control Board makes its regulations known.

“Staff is in the process of working on some regulations, zoning regulations, to deal with marijuana businesses,” Johnson said. “Until the liquor board issues rules, and no one knows yet what they are, it’s going to make that process difficult.”

“The other issue, of course, is the federal government,” he added. “It has not yet notified the state of Washington about what it intends to do if the state does, in fact, start issuing licenses.”

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, said several communities around Washington are issuing moratoria for the same reason. On Grays Harbor, the City of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County have instituted similar measures.

But Smith said citizens shouldn’t get used to a complete pot prohibition, as all communities will be mandated to allow some marijuana retail.

“There’s nothing in I-502 that allows communities to opt out,” Smith said. “Part of its purpose is to cut down on illegal transactions, and you can’t do that with the moratoria in place.”

Municipal and county governments could still test that interpretation. Smith said he wouldn’t be surprised if the state saw court cases related to moratoriums in coming years.

Grays Harbor County could see four marijuana stores, if the Liquor Control Board adopts a recommendation from BoTech Communications, a consulting firm that compiled a report for the Liquor Control Board. BoTech’s recommendations were made based on county size and population density.

Small counties, such as Klickitat County, would only be allowed one store. Larger counties, such as Whatcom County and Snohomish County, would have between 10 and 19 stores. King County would have 36 stores — nearly twice the number allowed in any other county.

“The way we’re doing it, the number of marijuana stores in a county would be similar to the number of state liquor stores that county used to have,” Smith said.

Smith said the board will release a draft of the marijuana regulations Sept. 3, which will include the maximum number of stores for each county. Entrepreneurs interested in the marijuana business will apply for permits between Nov. 18 and Dec. 18, and Smith said the Liquor Control Board will need about 90 days to process applications and issue permits.

The state will issue three types of permits: producer permits for marijuana growers, processing permits for those who convert marijuana into consumer goods, such as cookies and oils, and retail permits for those who will own and operate marijuana stores.

Harborite and self-described medical marijuana activist Tammy Ramsay spoke against the collective garden moratorium at the Hoquiam City Council meeting, arguing that it was unfair for the city to prohibit something state voters had approved.

“The government is not listening to the people,” Ramsay said. “The council is bending and breaking a state law to uphold a federal law.”

Both of the moratoria passed with nearly unanimous votes. Only Councilwoman Brenda Carlstrom voted against the collective garden moratorium, and only Councilman Ben Winkelman voted against the marijuana business moratorium.