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City leaders proceeding cautiously with new marijuana law

Mayor Jim Restucci and Councilwoman Theresa Hancock listen as city attorney Patrick Galloway explains the requirements for a 12-month moratorium.

Mayor Jim Restucci and Councilwoman Theresa Hancock listen as city attorney Patrick Galloway explains the requirements for a 12-month moratorium. Photo by Laura Gjovaag.

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The Sunnyside City Council voted 6-0 with one absent to extend the city’s moratorium on the producing, processing and selling of recreational marijuana within city limits to 12 months from its original six months.

The council also directed city staff to prepare a work plan that would satisfy the state requirements for the moratorium. The purpose of the moratorium is to allow the city time to formulate rules and zoning regulations within Sunnyside regarding the use of the drug, which the citizens of Washington voted to legalize in November 2012.

City Manager Don Day said the Washington State Liquor Control Board has finalized the rules on marijuana production, processing and sales and will be issuing a license in Sunnyside for the retail sale of recreational marijuana, possibly as soon as Dec. 1.

During the public hearing on the issue, three citizens spoke. All three spoke after city planner Jamey Ayling presented a zoning map that showed the 1,000-foot buffer around elementary and secondary schools, playgrounds, recreation centers and facilities, child care centers, public parks, public transit centers, libraries, and gaming arcades that allow minors to enter.

Pat Parlin and Eric Placzek of Sunnyside’s Best Western Grapevine Inn both expressed concern that the area near the hotel is apparently open to a marijuana retail store. Placzek noted that having a marijuana retail establishment at an entrance to the city, like exit 69 off I-82, would be sending the wrong message to tourists.

Day and Ayling both noted that the city was looking into the possibility that the games at the movie theater qualify as an arcade under the law, which would limit the zoning in that area as well.

Planning Commission Chair DeAnn Hochhalter also spoke to ask the council for more time to study zoning laws.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock said she is worried the city may be sued if the liquor control board issues a license for a retailer in the Sunnyside area on Dec. 1 and the zoning is not in place. She urged the council to leave the six-month moratorium in place and only extend it if the city needs the extra time for determining zoning when the deadline is approaching.

Councilman Jason Raines said the legalization of marijuana is in direct conflict with federal law. He pointed out that the city does not allow medical marijuana because of federal law and asked if the state can force the city to implement the law. City attorney Patrick Galloway cautioned the council against allowing the city to become a test case.

“No matter where this city decides to fall on the spectrum, whether very pro-marijuana or very anti-marijuana or somewhere in the middle,” said Galloway, “unless you’re so against it that you want to be the city to take it to the Supreme Court... we would encourage the city to definitely continue with the six-month moratorium but consider recommending to staff to bring forward a work plan to extend the moratorium to 12 months so we can let others who are further, one way or the other, lead the way.”

Councilman Dean Broersma pointed out that the city will either be violating state law or federal law in this matter. He suggested extending the moratorium and letting other cities trigger lawsuits.

After the meeting Hancock expressed worry that the moratorium, although allowed by state law, might not be enough to protect the city against a lawsuit. She argued the city will not be liable to the federal government for setting zoning laws, only the licensee who sells marijuana will be taking legal risk. As a result, she felt it would have been a better decision to set up the zoning laws for Sunnyside within the original six-month moratorium to avert the risk of a lawsuit from a potential licensee.

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