Bellingham imposes interim limits on marijuana businesses

BELLINGHAM - The City Council has approved a temporary moratorium on setting up recreational marijuana businesses inside the city.

Assistant City Attorney Alan Marriner said the city has already been receiving inquiries from people hoping to take advantage of the recreational marijuana measure, Initiative 502, which was approved by Washington voters in November 2012.

Under terms of the initiative, the State Liquor Control Board was authorized to set up a system of rules and regulations for the production, processing and retailing of marijuana for recreational use.

But the state regulations are not expected to be ready until Sept. 14. According to the liquor board's website, the board expects to have rules in place by that date and won't begin accepting applications from those seeking state licenses until then.

Council members unanimously approved the city moratorium ordinance Monday, July 1, on a recommendation from Marriner. Besides blocking any city permits for marijuana establishments before the state sets the rules, the moratorium gives the city time to develop its own regulations determining where such businesses should be allowed, Marriner said.

The text of I-502 already contains limits on where marijuana businesses can be located. Among other things, they must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries and bus terminals. But city officials plan to draft their own rules and restrictions.

"The purpose of this moratorium is to allow the city adequate time to study the secondary land-use impacts associated with the location and siting" of marijuana businesses, the ordinance states. "The city's goal is to ultimately draft zoning and business registration and licensing regulations to address such developments and uses, to hold public hearings on such draft regulations and to adopt such regulations."

Marriner said the city moratorium can remain in effect for up to one year under state law.

Also at Monday's meeting, the council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing interim zoning regulations for the city's existing medical marijuana dispensaries, created under authority of another citizen initiative that state voters approved in 1998.

Marriner said the council wants to impose strict limits on the medical pot dispensaries while the city decides what regulations and zoning is appropriate for them. The interim ordinance limits "collective gardens" for medical marijuana to indoor locations in industrial zones, while personal-use plants can be grown only indoors, inside the medical user's home.

Both ordinances were introduced to the council as "emergency" measures that did not appear on the agenda issued before Monday's council meeting. Marriner said he used that procedure because if people knew the restrictions were on the agenda, they could have rushed to file permit or license applications that would not have been subject to the new ordinances.