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Elma moves forward on regs for growing, processing pot; retail aspects on pause

ELMA — The Elma City Council is moving forward with an ordinance allowing for marijuana growers and processors to locate within the city of Elma, but it will take a while longer before the city gets on board with potential retail stores to locate within city limits.

A proposed ordinance would actually prohibit retail stores at this point. Although no one has proposed putting a retail store in Elma, the possibility exists. The county has three at-large licenses with owners potentially locating retail stores in Porter, Central Park and the North Beach. However, those licenses could be sold at anytime and, at that point, someone may see Elma as a potential site for a retail location.

Elma City Council members Pat Miller, David Blackett and Tom Boling each said they did not support a permanent ban of retail marijuana outlets for the city of Elma. That said, they just weren’t in a rush to do it.

“We want to make sure we get it in the proper zoning and take time to really figure this out,” Miller said.

Added Councilwoman Debbie Thurman, “We need to think what’s more for the future than just for today. The state may come in and allow more retail licenses at some point.”

The city’s hearings examiner recommended the council adopt provisions not just for recreational marijuana production and processing, but also for retail stores, as well, citing public feedback during a June public hearing on the matter, as well as the fact the state has moved forward with its own regulations on the issue.

Councilman Blackett says he was worried that the city may face a lawsuit if it institutes a permanent ban of retail outlets. Several council members had a copy of a press release Elma attorney Chris Crew had issued Monday night, saying he planned to hand-deliver a lawsuit to the Bonney Lake City Council at its scheduled meeting.

“We don’t need our own lawsuit,” Miller said.

Crew’s lawsuit against Bonney Lake seeks $2.5 million in damages in response to the moratorium on I-502 businesses passed by the City Council in October of 2013. Crew represents Saranjit Bassi, who was awarded an I-502 retail license by the state, and intended to open the doors of his marijuana retail store July 1 along with other license holders, but was denied a business permit by the city of Bonney Lake as a result of its moratorium.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed last month against the city of Wenatchee by attorney Hilary Bricken, who anticipates challenging her case against the city “all the way up” to the state Supreme Court. That suit garnered attention from the ACLU, which has vowed to intervene in the case on the side of I-502 plaintiffs if issues of federal law arise.

Another similar lawsuit was brought against the city of Fife only a few days ago on July 16. In that lawsuit, plaintiff Tedd Weatherbee claims that his constitutional rights were violated by Fife’s moratorium.

“The common thread that runs through all of these lawsuits is that the state awarded each of these people something worth a million dollars,” Crew stated.

Crew went on to say that “every reasonable businessman would fight tooth-and-nail against a city ordinance designed to make their million-dollar award worthless.”

In a memo to the city council dated June 12, Elma City Attorney Dan Glenn notes that numerous other municipalities in the state are now being sued for their outright bans and refusal to implement I-502.

“We don’t want to spend a bunch of our taxpayers’ money to fight that,” said Elma Mayor Dave Osgood.

The city of Hoquiam is the only city on the Harbor to ban all aspects of marijuana sales and production.

During public comment, lobbyist Jim Eddy of Hoquiam encouraged the Elma City Council to move quickly to figure out where potential retail stores could go in Elma, encouraging them to treat it like any other business and put it in a commercial zone.

GROWERS

The proposed Elma ordinance would have restricted the number of licenses issued for growers and processors and constrained the size of the building, but the Elma City Council stripped those parts out of the ordinance.

“We don’t restrict the number of any other businesses,” Boling said.

The proposed ordinance also would have required the business owner to go through a conditional use hearing process to locate their business within the city. After Eddy told the council that such a process would create one more hurdle for a business owner to go through, the council stripped that part of the ordinance out, too, allowing a marijuana grower or processor to be a permitted use like any other business.

The city left in requirements for additional odor protections.

“You will not like the smell if it gets out,” Elma Police Chief Jeff Troumbley told the council, noting he gets complaints from residents about marijuana smells frequently.

At this point, there’s just one producer/processor in the city limits known as Northwest Harvest Company. A co-owner with the company told the council that the company would install a $180,000 HVAC system, specifically to keep odors and the environment of a warehouse under control.

Before the ordinance can be approved, Glenn says the city is going through an environmental planning process first. The ordinance should be ready for approval in the next month or two. It may take a little while longer for the retail aspect to be approved.

Besides addressing the issues behind legal, recreational marijuana, the ordinance would absolutely prohibit all aspects of medical marijuana from locating within the city limits.

Vidette reporter David Haerle contributed to this story.