YAKIMA — In a close vote Tuesday, the Yakima City Council decided to make room for recreational marijuana in the city’s zoning codes.
The City Council rejected a push by its more conservative members to ban locations for selling, making or processing marijuana and instead, in a 4-3 vote, enacted a six-month moratorium to give city staff time to develop new zoning regulations to restrict such locations.
“Until we get some codes in place, those areas are vulnerable,” said Steve Osguthorpe, referring to places in the city that could under state law engage in a marijuana enterprise.
The moratorium will go into effect after a public hearing at the council’s Nov. 5 meeting, nearly one year after Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana by passing Initiative 502. A significant majority of Yakima voters opposed the measure.
City Council members Micah Cawley, Sara Bristol, Kathy Coffey and Maureen Adkison voted for the moratorium. Dave Ettl, Rick Ensey and Bill Lover opposed it.
Ettl, Ensey and Lover voted in favor of a ban, which was defeated in a 4-3 vote.
While the substance is still considered illegal by the federal government, the U.S. Justice Department in August promised not to interfere with the new law — and a similar one approved by voters in Colorado — which allows people over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of usable marijuana, up to 16 ounces of marijuana infused in a solid form or 72 ounces infused in a liquid form. The Justice Department said it will step in if either state tolerates illegal interstate transport or access to youth.
Other Yakima Valley governments have adopted moratoriums, including Sunnyside and Yakima County.
I-502 tasked the state with regulating and permitting the recreational marijuana industry, and the state Liquor Control Board is scheduled to vote Oct. 16 on proposed rules.
If approved, the state will start taking applications for licenses Nov. 18.
The state has capped the number of licenses at 334 across Washington. It will issue up to 14 in Yakima County: five in Yakima, one each in Selah, Sunnyside and Grandview, and six at large sites, which could be anywhere.
Based on site restrictions in I-502, many areas of Yakima are already off limits to recreational marijuana facilities.
Right now, though, several residential areas, especially in west Yakima, are open for such operations, according to city staff.
The city can restrict where they go, much like it has with strip clubs and other adult entertainment venues, assistant city attorney Mark Kunkler said.
City officials have mentioned the idea of restricting the sites to industrial areas, but Councilman Rick Ensey said he worried that it would create red light districts.
Banning recreational marijuana could prompt litigation in the future, Kunkler said during the study session.
If the city lost in court, it could face having to immediately open up to recreational marijuana facilities.
That might be, “but I’m not going to force it on people. I’ll let the courts force it on people,” Ensey said.
However, his motion to ban it was defeated by Cawley, Adkison, Bristol and Coffey.
Cawley said that while he opposed I-502, it passed and the city has to deal with it as state law.
“We’re going to be on the backside of this. We’re going to be more pinched than we would if we’d just followed the initiative.”
But what to Cawley is being practical was greeted by Ettl with sarcasm.
“Embrace the will of the people, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” he said.