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Ferndale council to decide whether one more pot store OK

Sign for Buds SOS, a recreational marijuana store on Portal Way in Ferndale Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. The City Council may allow a second pot store and restrict where it could go.
Sign for Buds SOS, a recreational marijuana store on Portal Way in Ferndale Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. The City Council may allow a second pot store and restrict where it could go. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

The City Council will decide Monday, Feb. 1, whether to allow one more marijuana store in Ferndale and to restrict where it could go.

Those are among the changes city leaders are considering as they reconcile their rules with revisions in state regulations, which include rolling unregulated medical marijuana operations into the highly regulated recreational pot market.

Ferndale’s existing rules are aligned with Initiative 502, which focused on selling marijuana for recreational use in Washington state, so it doesn’t allow recreational and medical marijuana to be sold in the same store. That’s a change that City Council also would have to make to match the new state rules.

As part of folding medical into recreational sales, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board increased the number of stores statewide from the current 334 to a new cap of 556.

So Ferndale can now have two pot stores and cap the total allowed at that number, if the City Council wants to go that way.

State voters in 2012 approved I-502, which legalized growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana, but local governments can impose stricter limitations or ban such businesses.

The city’s increased allotment is part of a new cap for Whatcom County and its cities that would just about double the number of stores allowed from 15 to 29.

49% How many Ferndale voters approved I-502, which legalized growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana, in 2012.

Ferndale now has one licensed pot store, Buds SOS on Portal Way. It’s in a part of the city zoned for general business, which is where a second store would go. The city is eliminating allowing stores in two other types of zones.

“This would be a fairly significant reduction,” said Jori Burnett, the city’s community development director.

Still, he said, there are a large number of properties where a store could go in the general business zone, which runs along Interstate 5.

It wasn’t clear during a Wednesday, Jan. 27, planning and land use committee of the City Council whether members would allow a second store.

City Councilman Keith Olson reminded other members that unlike state voters, Ferndale residents voted down I-502. He supported keeping the number of stores at one.

Only 49 percent of Ferndale voters supported the measure, compared to 56 percent statewide.

But Councilwoman Carol Bersch said capping the number at one store would create a monopoly and prevent competitive pricing. And Councilwoman Rebecca Xczar said she supported a second store because she wanted to keep tax dollars in Ferndale.

Olson also was frustrated by the state’s changes, which required the city to revisit its rules.

“We’ve already established all these things,” he said, “and we have to go back and fix all these things.”

On Monday, the council also could decide whether to add religious institutions to the 1,000-foot buffer where pot stores can’t go. The state mandates that much room between pot businesses and places where children might gather, like schools and arcades, but doesn’t specifically include religious institutions.

Staff recommended not doing so because the terms “church” or “religious institution” could be hard to define and, as a practical matter, existing churches already are in existing buffer areas.

At its meeting Monday, the council also could lift the emergency moratorium, approved in December, on new stores in Ferndale.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Attend the meeting

The Ferndale City Council will hold a public hearing on the marijuana issues at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at the City Hall Annex, 5694 2nd Ave.

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