Wallace fails to gain support for rec marijuana moratorium

Councilmember Kevin Wallace said prior to the defeat of emergency legislation he proposed Monday night to temporarily ban recreational marijuana businesses in Bellevue that there will come a time when the city regrets letting marijuana in.

Wallace provided two emergency ordinances ahead of a public hearing to amend and extend an emergency ordinance regulating marijuana retail, processing and producing in Bellevue. One was for a six-month moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses to allow the city's planning commission to complete final recommendations for how to regulate the new industry, and the other would do the same for collective medical marijuana gardens.

Monday's public hearing was simply to amend an emergency ordinance the city has been under since October to prohibit retail marijuana stores from opening up too close to each other. The ordinance now sets a 1,000-foot distance requirement between stores.

Wallace argued a moratorium on recreational marijuana would allow the planning commission more time to recommend a better ordinance for regulating retail, production and processing in the city. He added the Bellevue Police Department has also not yet weighed in on the issue. Councilmember Conrad Lee was the only other vote in favor of the bans, and the emergency ordinances required a five-vote supermajority to pass. The council received only one comment during its public hearing on the distance requirement, and that was from a couple advocating for an outright ban.

City Attorney Lori Riordan told the council the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of issuing marijuana licenses, has indicated its close to issuing permits for producers and processors, and they may have done so already. Retailers may begin selling marijuana by July.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said she supports the will of Bellevue voters, who approved I-502 by a nearly 60 percent margin, and worries that if the city doesn't get behind recreational marijuana, the Washington Legislature may try to strip the city of its local zoning control in the matter. There are other regulations the city can pass, she said, like issuing tickets for smoking marijuana in public or to prevent people from producing hash oil inside their homes with butane, which resulted in the Hampton Greens apartment explosion and fire.

"While some of us up here may not have voted that way, we should support the will of the voters," she said.

"I would say that the only thing that is more scary to me than trying to figure out the zoning for marijuana stores in Bellevue is to allow the Seattle delegation in the Legislature to figure it out for us, and I'm not willing to do that," said Councilmember John Chelminiak, who pushed to get things moving within the planning commission. "I think this (I-502) is a stupid law. I truly think it is, but it's the law and we're now to the point where we're trying to regulate and to deal with it."

Chelminiak said there should be a zero-tolerance policy for retail pot stores who are found to be selling marijuana to those who are underage. The council has had the option to ban recreational marijuana business in Bellevue since the state attorney general issued an opinion that local governments have the right, but that it could open up municipalities to litigation.

"It would not surprise me if we get sued no matter what we do," Chelminiak said.

Mayor Claudia Balducci said she agrees with Robertson, and it is time to give the planning commission real direction in order to complete a comprehensive final ordinance for recreational marijuana regulations.

"I think there will become a time next year when we'll live to regret the introduction of marijuana to Bellevue," Wallace said.


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