Ferndale to decide how marijuana stores would fit in

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 2, 2013 

A marijuana plant is ready for harvesting at a Seattle grow operation.

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FERNDALE - In a city where most voters did not want to legalize recreational marijuana, the City Council on Monday, Nov. 4, could decide where marijuana establishments will be allowed once shops and growers open for business next year.

State voters in 2012 approved Initiative 502 - legalizing the production, processing and sale of marijuana - with 56 percent in favor, but only 49 percent of Ferndale voters supported the initiative.

"Ferndale is certainly more hesitant than the rest of the state on this, so I think that's saying to us, 'Let's be cautious on this,'" council member Jon Mutchler said.

The state, which has just written 43 pages of rules to regulate most aspects of the legal marijuana trade, will begin accepting license applications on Nov. 18. All that's left for local governments is to decide where the businesses should go, and how to handle impacts such as traffic, and water and sewer use.

After a public hearing, the city Planning Commission decided on what city staff called a "straightforward" extension of the state rules:

-- Growing or processing marijuana is allowed in general business, light industrial and manufacturing zones;

-- Selling marijuana is allowed in any zone that permits commercial sales. As it turns out, this type of business would be prohibited on downtown Main Street because of a state rule keeping marijuana shops 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries and similar places.

Maps showing where businesses might be sited are on the city's website.

Before voting on final rules, the council will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at City Council chambers, 5694 Second Ave. Even before the public hearing, some council members are leaning one way or the other.

Keith Olson said he may argue for adding a line to Ferndale's code requiring businesses to obey federal laws. While the state is legalizing the drug, federal law still prohibits growing, selling or using it.

City legal staff recommends against a ban on marijuana, saying it could open up the city to lawsuits.

"I have seen all kinds of lawsuits and all kinds of lawyers," Olson said. "It doesn't mean they're going to win."

Council member Brent Goodrich would be among Ferndale residents who, as Mutchler put it, are "hesitant" about marijuana.

"If it was approved on a federal basis ... I'd have a different viewpoint on it," Goodrich said. "I don't think we should just open our doors and say, 'Come on in, do whatever you want.'"

"My leaning right now is toward, 'How restrictive can we be but still comply with the state regulations?'" Goodrich said.

Council member Cathy Watson wants to see an ordinance approved soon, to keep pace with the state's timeline for issuing licenses. She would like to hear community input; many who spoke before the Planning Commission were marijuana entrepreneurs from out of town. But she doesn't want the hearing to stray into a moral debate about marijuana.

"The best thing they can do to help us is read the ordinance and let us know if we didn't catch something," Watson said.

ATTEND THE MEETING

What: Ferndale City Council will hold a public hearing on new marijuana rules.

When: 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4.

Where: City Council chambers, 5694 Second Ave.

More information: cityofferndale.org/marijuana. It includes maps where marijuana businesses would be allowed.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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