Ferndale City Council member wants stricter limits on pot businesses


FERNDALE - A city councilman wants more limits placed on recreational pot businesses in Ferndale in light of the recent state Attorney General opinion that local governments can ban or restrict them.

Councilman Jon Mutchler's request comes after the Ferndale council voted Nov. 4 to allow marijuana businesses along the city's Interstate 5 corridor. He was one of two to vote against the measure.

The council's decision was prior to the Jan. 16 opinion by the Attorney General's Office stating that local governments could impose stricter limitations, or even opt out of the measure.

As a result, Mutchler wants to revisit the ordinance and has asked the city's attorney to tell the council whether doing so would be legally defensible.

"Can we do this? Are we putting a big target on our back that says, 'Come sue us'?" Mutchler said in an interview after the Wednesday, Jan. 29, planning and land use committee of the Ferndale City Council.

Mutchler chairs that committee.

Some applicants have indicated they would sue if they're granted licenses from the state Liquor Control Board to grow, process or sell marijuana but are then barred by local authorities from doing business.

"This is not about stopping the legal purchase and use of marijuana; it's about a respectful zoning (of this industry) that reflects both the diverse opinions of Ferndale residents and the above-average number of families with children that live and shop here," Mutchler said.

State voters in 2012 approved Initiative 502 - which legalized growing, processing and selling marijuana - with 56 percent in favor. But just 49 percent of Ferndale voters supported the measure.

Mutchler also wished to revive the issue because City Councilman Brent Goodrich wanted to look at the city's ordinance again after the Attorney General opinion and because a new member, Carol Bersch, has been elected to the council.

The full City Council will hear from City Attorney Dannon Traxler in an executive session Monday, Feb. 3, that is closed to the public because of the threat of litigation.

The council could decide to leave its marijuana business ordinance alone, or provide direction to staff about the next step if members decide to revisit the rules.

Mutchler asked Traxler whether the council could now:

-- Further restrict where the one marijuana store allotted to Ferndale by the state can set up shop. There are six zones in the city where a pot retailer could go. On top of a 1,000-foot buffer from places where children are expected, such as schools, parks or child-care centers, Mutchler wants to keep a marijuana retailer out of other family centric places.

-- Include established churches in the 1,000-foot buffer.

-- Require all pot businesses to also obtain a conditional use permit, a process that he said would allow community members to have more input.

An attorney representing marijuana grower-producer Ocean Grown Enterprises, which has applied for a state license and Ferndale business license, said the council shouldn't take up the issue again.

"You have a compliant ordinance in place," said attorney Heather Wolf, who represents Ocean Growth. "To change the rules now is patently unfair."

City officials said changes would apply to future businesses, not those already in the pipeline like Ocean Grown.

Meanwhile, the Lynden City Council in February will consider extending its six-month moratorium on marijuana businesses in the city.

The one it enacted in September ends in March.

"We did it six months ago and look what's changed in the last six months," Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis said. "We're letting things settle out, then we'll come play."

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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