Ferndale approves marijuana businesses along I-5 corridor

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 5, 2013 

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

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

FERNDALE - Despite the reservations of two City Council members, Ferndale's leaders decided on Monday, Nov. 4, that they were ready to allow marijuana businesses along the city's Interstate 5 corridor.

In a 5-2 vote with Jon Mutchler and Keith Olson opposed, the council agreed to permit outfits that grow or process marijuana in general business, light industrial and manufacturing zones. The state has allotted Ferndale one retail marijuana store, which can be located in any zone that allows commercial sales.

Because of a state rule requiring marijuana businesses to locate more than 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries and similar places, all allowed properties are along I-5. The 1,000-foot rule prevents a marijuana retailer from opening on Main Street downtown.

The state finalized rules for marijuana businesses last month, following a state initiative approved by voters one year ago that legalized recreational marijuana. The state will start accepting marijuana business applications on Nov. 18.

Mutchler was unhappy with the allowed zones, which came as a recommendation from the city's Planning Commission. First, he proposed delaying the vote. He later tempered his opposition, saying he could support city marijuana regulations if they kept the retail store away from other places frequented by children, such as fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.

"There's only going to be one retail place, and I don't want to see it next to the Dairy Queen," Mutchler said.

City attorney Dannon Traxler spoke against expanding the state's restrictions, saying it would expose the city to legal challenges.

"Kids are everywhere, and so if you're going to expand the prohibition on where these businesses can be located, arguably you can prohibit it anywhere," Traxler said. "You're zoning this out of existence here. ... And that's when you're going to run into problems when the licenses start getting issued by the state."

Mutchler's more restrictive siting proposal failed by a vote of 6 to 1.

Mel Hansen spoke for the majority of the council, which was willing to align the city ordinance with the state rules. Hansen said that by his own logic, Mutchler could have fought allowing liquor on the shelves at Haggen - a position Mutchler didn't take.

"You're making a moral judgment that marijuana is worse than liquor?" Hansen asked Mutchler. "You can regulate this thing to death. I can't support that."

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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