Covington City Council extends temporary ban on pot

Until the state decides how to juggle the regulations between recreational and medical marijuana, the city of Covington is content with waiting.

The City Council extended its ongoing moratorium on medical marijuana production and processing facilities, dispensaries and collective gardens for an additional six months — the fifth moratorium since August of 2011.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board and the state legislature are in the process of developing a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana, which will likely be similar to the recently adopted state regulations for recreational marijuana.

Because of the “near certainty” of change to the state medical marijuana landscape, the city staff recommended to maintain the moratorium until the state legislature adopts the new regulations. This extension means the council won’t need to make a decision until August. The city may terminate the moratorium prior to the end of the six-month term.

Mayor Margaret Harto said she supports medical marijuana but is not sure where she stands with recreational.

“I’m not sure what I want to see,” she said. “From where I sit I want the council to have a good healthy discussion.”

City Manager Derek Matheson said the council has varying views on medicinal marijuana. The pro-side views cannabis as an effective treatment for certain medical conditions. The detractors worry that the industry is out of the community’s character and may attract crime.

“I think there is a fear of the unknown that is weighing heavily on the debate,” Matheson said.

While there is no limit on the number of times a city can extend its moratorium, Matheson said there is a reasonableness factor that must be met or the city would open itself up to a legal fight. There was no comment during a public hearing on the matter Feb. 25.

“There was a handful the first time (we extended the moratorium),” Matheson said. “With each extension the amount of comment has dropped.”

Although the city does not officially allow medical marijuana dispensaries, it is not pot-shop free. The state has allowed medical use of marijuana since 1998 and Covington Holistic Medicine opened in 2011, prior to Covington’s moratoriums. Although the business is not technically grandfathered in, city manager Derek Matheson said there is an understanding between the two parties.

“We’ve chosen to make enforcement of the moratorium a low priority,” he said. “Barring any major criminal incident or code violation, we don’t plan to interfere with their operations at this point.”

Matheson said the city has had no issues with the business and he commended the business’s charitable donations to the community.

An employee of Covington Holistic Medicine said the owners were not interested in making a comment for this story.

State legislators are looking into an interim zoning ordinance that would put a 1,000 foot buffer between recreational pot shops and places such as elementary schools, playgrounds, child care centers, parks and libraries.

Covington Development Director Richard Hart said it is too early to speculate on how any potential merging of standards might impact Covington Holistic Medicine, which is in close proximity to the Covington Library.

The hundreds of dispensaries in Washington are operated under state law language on “collective gardens” and is not currently regulated by the state. The measures being considered would eliminate collective gardens and force dispensaries to get a license or close.

The Liquor Control Board capped the state’s recreational retail licenses at 334, despite more than 2,000 applications. There are 13 prospective businesses with Covington addresses that have applied for marijuana licenses, according to the control board’s website.

Matheson said there are only 11 licenses available for unincorporated King County and every city with a population of fewer than 20,000, meaning the likelihood of more than one such business in the area is low.

The Black Diamond City Council was also expected to hold a public hearing regarding extension of its own medical marijuana moratorium at a meeting Thursday.


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