Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 13, 2013

Council Chooses Reasonable Regulation on Retail Marijuana

As expected, the public hearing on the marijuana ban (“temporary moratorium“) that passed last month was a packed house. Over 75 people crammed into the council chambers to speak on the issue – and speak they did. I was not able to stay to the end of the meeting but here are the essentials. You can also read Ralph Schwartz’ article here.

Despite earlier vocal opposition, Lilliquist voted to allow retail stores in Bellingham

Despite earlier concerns, Lilliquist voted to allow retail stores in Bellingham

The Good: Faced with a somewhat hostile crowd, the council still made the right choice. They lifted the moratorium on retail marijuana stores and allowed them in commercial and industrial zoned areas of the city. The state requires that there are no marijuana operations within 1,000 feet of a school, park, transit center, library, child care center, playground or arcade (yes, really, an arcade, they still have those, you know!).

The result is that the stores will be limited to Iowa St, Northwest Avenue near Albertsons and the Guide Meridian. As I said, this is a very good thing, they are allowing stores to open in a handful of locations that are accessible to Bellingham residents.

IndustrialCommercialZonedAreas_WithRestrictionAreas

Grey is banned by state law, salmon is where possible retail stores can go

The Bad: Medical marijuana growing operations, perpetually living in a legal grey zone, have been restricted to industrial zones (Iowa St), however it is my understanding the ordinance will allow for a few small plants to be kept for personal use in residential areas (the closet grow). Growing in large enough quantities for medical marijuana consumers can be difficult to do with a few plants in a house, so now sick patients must travel to Iowa St. to tend their little patch of the community garden.

It is a difficult situation but one that does not have a simple solution except time. As the retail marijuana market rolls out, I imagine the medical marijuana business will contract down to just the people who need it the most – with many others with mild symptoms opting for the simplicity of the retail market (as you see with aspirin or cold medicine, you could get a prescription but it is easier to just grab a bottle at Fred Meyer). Once the medical marijuana community shrinks down to just patients and providers, I imagine it will be easier for state and city governments to loosen the requirements, free from concerns of abuse.

The Ugly: The crowd. I was really disappointed in some of the people who attended the public hearing last night. They were rude to speakers they didn’t agree with – loudly scoffing at concerns over smell and noise – and hostile to the council. Not all speakers behaved this way, several offered very moving personal testimony about their medical challenges, however there were enough caustic speakers to make a significant impact. I kept thinking, “Do you believe that will help? Do you think that is an effective way to persuade someone?” There is a difference between forcefully raising concerns and letting your angry tone drown out your message; a mistake I sometimes make right here on this blog. I understand the impulse to rage against the establishment but I was still disappointed that some attendees were so dismissive.

Overall, I am very pleased with the actions of our City Council, but I wish this whole ordeal had been much more public. We should have had an opportunity to know about the various options presented at the meeting (restricting retail stores to only industrial zones, or restricting it altogether) before the meeting itself, however, the council made the best of a bad situation. Hopefully, the city legal department will be more proactive in the future instead of waiting for these situations to erupt and forcing the council to legislate by emergency ordinance rather than the standard process.

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Responses

  1. Riley:

    Great recap, Thanks for your testimony and the others from Bellingham. I think most of the hostile crowd was from out of town. As always Bellingham wins in the long run.

    • Please don’t make the mistake of labeling us-and-thems.
      Not only does it denigrate the concerns of the speakers the council hears,
      but it justifies ignoring all the good points mixed in with the anger
      and on the basis of residence alone.

  2. I’m so glad I went, to testify in favour of retail and medical establishments in commercial zones. And I agree with you, there were some folks in attendance who needed some manners.

  3. Reblogged this on 4:20 Smokers Blog.

  4. Nothing here indicates there was ever any justification for an emergency moratorium.

    • Agreed – the city legal department tossed them a stinky fish and they made the best of a mixed metaphor.

  5. The Federal government’s posture on marijuana is baffling indeed. The DEA classifies it as “Class I”, meaning it has a very high potential for abuse and no recognized benefit for medical purposes. Paradoxically and ironically, the government has ignored “medical marijuana” for years, even in Washington, DC. So we have a logical conundrum: a plethora of data in the peer-reviewed medical literature (as well as an abundance of anecdotal patient claims) of beneficial effects, data that many states have already accepted as legitimate, while the DEA continues to deny validity but doesn’t enforce existing laws. Two states (ours is, of course, one of them) have now legalized it for recreational use. Still, the government responds with contradictory and vague utterances that leave all in limbo. Given all of this, it’s laudatory that the City of Bellingham has acted with courage and integrity in this matter. Now, we await imperial approval from DC…or otherwise.

  6. As I understand it,
    MMJ is not being relegated to the same zoning restrictions pending a work session and revisit on September 16.
    That was the real win of the evening.
    It was also nice of Mr. Marriner to remind growers that enforcing zoning rules is complaint-driven and that being discreet is better than being confrontational.
    Some speakers aimed a bit of pique at the council for the way the moratorium was born and that led the way to expressions of fear for the same underhandedness at work on MMJ restrictions.
    The ones in place at present for the allowable size of a garden
    and the required distance from public features are arbitrary and unthinking and need modification.
    I don’t know how the council sits through an evening lake last night’s – I couldn’t do it.
    But I wouldn’t have undercut the public’s right to a hearing ahead of adopting an ordinance either.


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