Property owner wants Kent City Council to allow marijuana businesses

Chris Kealy wants to give the Kent City Council another option as it prepares to adopt a six-month moratorium against recreational marijuana businesses.

Kealy, of Tacoma, asked the council to wait on its moratorium because he wants to open a marijuana producing and processing plant on property he owns in the city's warehouse district. Kealy, and his Seattle attorney Christine Masse, spoke Tuesday night at the council's Public Safety Committee meeting at City Hall.

Despite the pleas, the committee of council members Les Thomas, Bill Boyce and Dana Ralph voted 3-0 to forward the six-month marijuana ban to the full seven-member council for consideration at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

"Your citizens voted for this so that should be considered," Kealy said to the committee about the 2012 statewide Initiative 502 passed by voters to allow recreational marijuana producers, processors and retailers.

The city also has received more than a dozen other inquiries from people who want to operate recreational marijuana businesses in Kent, said Acting City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick in an email on Wednesday.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board oversees the rules and plans for issuing licenses and starting on Monday will accept licensing applications for 30 days. The board set a limit of up to three retail marijuana businesses in Kent but hasn't placed any limit on production plants. Kealy wants to apply to the liquor board for a license and prefers to have the city of Kent's support to allow such a business before he applies.

"I bought multiple acres in Kent years ago," said Kealy, who owns the Iron Horse Casino in Auburn. "I'm a business guy that a year ago today I would have said no way. But I've learned what this is and as a producer, processor _ not retail _ it's a big difference."

Fitzpatrick recommended the committee adopt a moratorium to clearly define the city's ban. He said city legal staff believed earlier this year that the city's ban on medical marijuana would be enough to keep recreational marijuana businesses out of the city. But the rules adopted by the liquor board and possible changes by the Legislature about medical marijuana laws makes a new recreational marijuana moratorium necessary.

The six months also will allow city staff to amend zoning codes to ban recreational marijuana businesses. That process takes a few months as changes must go through the city's Land Use and Planning Board, the council's Economic and Community Development Committee and the full City Council.

"If somebody comes into the city of Kent with a state-issued license and wants to locate in Kent it will be denied but there is risk of litigation," Fitzpatrick said about the current code. "What this office doesn't want to do is get in a fight over what our code means. We want our code to be absolutely clear."

City staff came up with moratorium proposal because a majority of the council favors a ban of all marijuana businesses. The council voted 4-3 in June 2012 to ban medical marijuana collective gardens. Thomas, Boyce, Ralph and Deborah Ranniger approved the ban. Dennis Higgins, Elizabeth Albertson and Jamie Perry were against it.

Masse, the attorney for Kealy, told the committee that a marijuana production plant would be a good fit with all of the other Kent warehouses in the valley. She said the plant would benefit the city.

"Chris and his team are prepared to invest $20 million in that kind of business here and to offer potentially dozens, and if extremely successful, maybe over 100 jobs," Masse said. "It would contribute to your B&O (business and occupation) tax and contribute to your property tax base with the value of the improvement. We ask that you consider it the way you consider other manufacturing."

Thomas, who earlier in the meeting bought up the idea of a permanent ban rather than just six months, responded to Masse's comments about comparing marijuana production to other products made in Kent.

"The other manufacturing processing plants there is one major difference, those are all legal," Thomas said. "Right now federally it (marijuana) is still against the law. We have a problem. This council is split but this council probably will move for a total ban if possible and the next council an even stronger ban.

"This is not a friendly place to locate this business. I'm sorry to tell you this."

Kealy and Masse plan to return Tuesday night to City Hall to address the full council with the hope they can persuade at least four members to hold off on the six-month moratorium.

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