Lynden, Everson looking to ban recreational pot businesses

Lynden plans to ban growing, processing or selling recreational marijuana inside city limits and if so would be the first Whatcom County city to do so.
Lynden plans to ban growing, processing or selling recreational marijuana inside city limits and if so would be the first Whatcom County city to do so. Tri-City Herald

City leaders in Lynden and Everson are moving toward an outright ban of recreational pot businesses in their towns.

If they do approve a ban, the two cities would be only municipalities in Whatcom County to do so.

Both cities have six-month moratoriums on such businesses in place, which their city councils have extended a number of times.

Lynden did so again this week, when the council extended its temporary moratorium for a fifth time — nearly two years after putting in place the first six-month moratorium.

It did so by a vote of 6-0 on Monday, Aug. 3, with council member Dave Burns absent.

“It was a given. There was very little discussion about extending the moratorium,” Mayor Scott Korthuis said Thursday.

Two members of the public were at the Monday council meeting. Both encouraged the council to extend the moratorium and to permanently ban recreational marijuana in Lynden, Korthuis said.

The council enacted the first moratorium in September 2013.

“Hopefully this is the last extension and we take care of it by ordinance,” Korthuis said. “That’s our goal.”

The city is expected to craft an ordinance, likely starting in September, that would permanently ban growing, processing or selling recreational weed in Lynden.

The city’s leaders have said they approved the temporary moratoriums because they wanted to see how regulations and legal challenges worked out as the state enacted the new recreational pot industry approved by Washington voters through Initiative 502.

The state Attorney General’s Office last year issued an opinion that nothing in I-502 prevented local governments from banning or otherwise regulating marijuana businesses, and municipalities that have banned recreational pot have won legal challenges in court.

Korthuis has said that Lynden would consider a permanent ban on such businesses if there was no push back legally and once the legal picture became clearer.

City leaders also felt confident about keeping pot out of Lynden, given residents’ views.

“A very high percentage of Lyndenites voted no on 502,” Korthuis said.

About 69 percent of them voted against legalizing recreational pot.

City leaders in Everson shared similar reasons for prohibiting marijuana in their city, where 56 percent of voters were against I-502.

Its current moratorium ends in October. A permanent ban is expected to go before the City Council in September or early October.

“The council and myself felt that it’s not something that we want to see in our community,” Everson Mayor John Perry said, adding that a pot store, for example, would “change the look” of the small town.

As a practical matter, Everson is small enough that locating pot businesses there while following the state’s mandate for a 1,000-foot buffer between such ventures and where children gather, like schools, is tough.

And a majority of the city’s voters, like those in Lynden, were against I-502.

“While it might have passed statewide, in our local communities and in our minds it didn’t,” Perry said. “We feel we should have the right to be more restrictive than state law.”

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