Pacific passes ordinance temporarily banning pot businesses

The Pacific City Council voted 6-0 to pass an interim zoning ordinance that blocks the licensing of any businesses seeking to produce, process or sell medical or recreational marijuana within the city for the next six months.

At a special meeting after the regularly-scheduled workshop on Monday, the council first heard what the public had to say about interim zoning Ordinance 14-1855 and then adopted the ordinance. The decision buys the City more time to figure out how to deal with the effects of I-502, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in Washington with 55 percent of the vote.

"I voted for the initiative to legalize," Councilmember Joshua Putnam said. "I believe it is the best solution from a public safety standpoint. That being said, my concern here is our requirement that businesses operate in accordance with federal law."

Putnam continued:

"There are many businesses that we do not have local laws against or about," he said. "We do not have a City ordinance against child pornography. We do not have a City ordinance against moonshining. We don't have a City ordinance against drug manufacturing. We rely on the provision that businesses must comply with state and federal law, so we don't have to adopt all those state and municipal codes into our code and make it bigger than the federal code. It is a tricky situation for the City to be able to permit this violation of federal law without setting a precedence that requires us to license other violations of federal law.

"I happen to disagree with this federal law, but it is the law," Putnam added. "As it stands now, I don't see how we can exempt one type of business from federal law."

James Dusek – who plans to grow and process marijuana in Pacific under the name Downtown Cannabis Company – addressed councilmembers before the vote and was disappointed by the decision.

Dusek said he had complied with the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) requirement, obtaining a lease before applying for his license and signing a five-year lease for a building in Pacific. He did his homework to ensure that there were no moratorium or zoning restrictions in place that would prevent him from opening.

Dusek said that when he applied for his license on Nov. 18, 2013, he had every good reason to believe that nothing stood in the way of his plans to open a business.

"If there was a moratorium or zoning ordinance in place in November 2013 when the 30-day window for licenses opened up, I would not have invested in this location," Dusek said.

Dusek continued:

"I assumed all was good, because they didn't have any zoning restrictions," he said. "Until last night (Monday)."

Today, Dusek is looking at more than six months before he can start to recoup his $50,000 investment.

"It's going to take me four months after the six-month moratorium before I have anything to sell," he said. "I've still got to grow the stuff."

Councilman Vic Kave voted for the ordinance to hold off legal challenges and buy the City more time to plan for potential marijuana businesses. But he was also concerned about potential environmental and public safety impacts.

"I voted for this 502 issue as well," Kave said. "Just because I don't use it doesn't mean I think I have the right to discriminate against others for something I see as being just as harmful as alcohol, and alcohol is legal. Cigarette smoking is more harmful, and it's been legal. We built this country on tobacco. The only reason I support the six-month ordinance is so we can address concerns for the safety of the manufacturing process. If we can address the safety concerns, I fully support having some reasonable process for letting these businesses exist in the city."

According to Dusek, however, those issues are already addressed in the text of the I-502 bill.

"I-502 is designed to bring those home grows that you are talking about in your community under one highly-regulated roof," he said.

Dusek pointed to SLCB's stringent regulations on marijuana businesses, including criminal background checks, 24-hour video surveillance requirements and rigorous tracking of plants.

"You'll notice it's probably the highest-regulated business in your city, with the most opportunity for income to the city," Dusek told the council. "Many of your concerns are also my concerns."

Despite the setback, Dusek said, he's committed to continuing to work with the City to turn his dream into a reality.

"I think they're (the council) good people," he said. "I just feel they haven't read the rules for I-502, so they can be comfortable with the tight regulations on what my business has to do. It's all spelled out in there, so it's kind of a knee-jerk reaction. I want to continue to work with the City to come to a mutual agreement."

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