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City of Kent seeks clarity on new marijuana rules

Kent city officials are trying to determine how to handle the new recreational marijuana rules under consideration by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) that could bring marijuana retailers and growers to Kent.

David Galazin, assistant city attorney, sent a letter last week to the liquor board trying to "clarify the relationship between the board's regulatory authority and a municipality's general police powers to regulate business activity and provide for appropriate zones regulating the use of land within corporate borders," according to the letter.

"We want to clarify that getting a marijuana license doesn't stop that you must get other licenses (from the city) such as a business license and permits," Galazin said at a June 4 City Council workshop. "You can't open a shop anywhere."

The liquor board plans a work session June 19 about the proposed rules and will hold an Aug. 7 public hearing on draft rules before the board votes Aug. 14 to adopt the rules. Public and private groups sent the board extensive written comments about the first draft rules released on May 16. The deadline to comment on the proposed rules was June 10.

“In keeping with our goal of an open and transparent process for drafting the rules, we’re going to take an additional two weeks to consider the last-minute input we’ve received,” said WSLCB Director Rick Garza in a Monday media release. “The board was prepared to issue the rules on June 19. However, it’s our responsibility to carefully review and consider the comments we received.”

The WSLCB is drafting the rules that, together with Colorado, will govern the comprehensive systems of growing, processing and retailing marijuana for recreational use. The board begins accepting applications on Sept. 14 for all license types.

Kent wants applicants to have all the required local licenses similar to the holder of a valid liquor license who must still locate within an allowable zoning district.

"It would be absurd to conclude that Initiative-502 permits the establishment of a retail marijuana store in the middle of a residential neighborhood when no other retail store would be allowed in the same location," Galazin wrote in the city's letter to the liquor board signed by Galazin.

Council President Dennis Higgins told Galazin at the workshop that he didn't want his name attached to the letter from the city.

"If it were up to me, I would treat this like we treat liquor retailers," Higgins said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson also said she didn't want her name "anywhere near" the letter.

In response to the negative reaction by some council members to the city's letter, Tom Brubaker, interim city chief administrative officer, told the council the city needs clarity in the recreational marijuana rules.

"We're trying to avoid vagueness in the law when we try to administer it," Brubaker said. "Medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle sued that they didn't have to follow (city) code. We're not trying to restrict I-502."

Councilman Les Thomas said the city's stand remains marijuana is a federal offense and against the law in Kent. That's why the council passed a ban last June on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, although at least two dispensaries still operate in Kent. Higgins, Albertson and Jamie Perry voted against the ban.

"If they want to try to build, Police Chief Ken Thomas will say it's illegal in Kent," Thomas said.

Galazin said the medical marijuana laws do not apply to I-502 or licensing plans by the liquor board to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana. Higgins said the council needs another workshop to discuss the issue.

"We should do some kind of zoning," Perry said. "If we do nothing, we open ourselves up to lawsuits."

Albertson said the city also would lose tax revenue if it didn't allow marijuana retailers or growers to operate in Kent.

Galazin said cities across the state are trying to determine how to address the new marijuana laws.

"Cities do not have a good handle on the land-use impact and the legal constraints," Galazin said. "It's a quagmire."

The new law is expected to go into effect Dec. 1. Galazin advised the council to figure out this summer how it plans to handle marijuana businesses in Kent, such as through zoning codes that allow retail marijuana stores in certain areas and light industrial uses for processing marijuana in other areas.

"We have until Dec. 1 but I recommend you do something over the summer," Galazin said.

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