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Auburn puts brakes on pot businesses; moratorium to last a year

The Auburn City Council on Monday established a one-year moratorium on the acceptance and processing of applications for business licenses, permits or approvals for marijuana, cannibis-related businesses inside city limits.

Council members emerged from an hour-long, closed-door meeting to cast the vote, which was unanimous.

Monday's action came nearly three weeks after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would allow Washington's and Colorado's new marijuana laws to go into effect. Last November more than 55 percent of Washington state's voters voted yes on Initiative 502, legalizing recreational use of marijuana in the state.

Deputy Mayor Nancy Backus said the reason for enacting the moratorium was to give Auburn's council subcommittees time to review all of the issues centering on the laws that are still unreconciled between state and federal guidelines.

"The state is saying one thing, federal laws are saying another, but they're also saying that they will turn a blind eye at the federal level," Backus said. "We want to ensure that, as the City of Auburn, we are protecting ourselves and at the same time doing a full review in the committees. We want to ensure that if we allow the processing of applications for marijuana-cannibis-related businesses, that we do so in such a manner as to allow for full review and information."

The City also wants time to learn from other Washington cities struggling to cope with the fallout from the passage of I-502, said Councilmember Largo Wales.

"We had a lot of debate about it. We wanted to make sure that it was kind of a neutral presentation of the issues, because we don't want to associate any value judgements with it. And then we really want a chance to study it in relationship to what it would do to assist or detract from our business community, our kids and safety, its impact on the police department and the different departments. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor what some of the other cities do, especially in light of what the federal government say it's going to do. We don't really trust that yet," Wales said.

"... We are really going to use this moratorium time to see what the position of our community is, and then how to implement it. We just don't want to be out in front until we know what all the issues are and get public comment from our planning commission," Wales said.

"We're not going to outright ban it, because of, quite honestly, the way our citizens voted," Councilmember John Holman added. "Let's give it a fair hearing. We just don't want to be on the bleeding edge."

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