Woodinville bans marijuana businesses inside city limits

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer

The City Council voted 5-2 last week to prohibit marijuana businesses within Woodinville’s city limits, after a debate that focused on federal law versus state law and the best way to protect children from the drug.

During a public hearing, one person spoke in favor of marijuana businesses and one other spoke against them.

Andreas Kolshorn asked the council members to reconsider their stereotypes of marijuana.

"People have the image of Cheech and Chong, the movies and a lot of the television shows and things which sensationalize it…" Kolshorn said. "A big problem is the typical vocabulary you hear, when people talk about getting high or getting stoned or whatever. It kind of gets you to the point where you think it’s an all-or-nothing thing."

Like with alcohol, he said, one can use marijuana in moderation and only feel mild effects from it, comparable to drinking one or two alcoholic drinks and feeling little or nothing.

He’s attended meetings for prospective pot business owners, and explained that people hoping to go into this business are respectable, professional and prepared to be held accountable.

"What’s missing now, and can be addressed with regulated marijuana, is creating social norms of acceptable use, such as wine connoisseurs in Woodinville Wine District, when they drink and how they behave," he said. "...I think banning regulated marijuana in Woodinville misses both a business opportunity and perhaps a chance to guide social change with a business perfectly matched to the local wine industry."

On the other hand, Sharon Peterson urged the council to consider the health risks of marijuana and follow the example of 14 other cities that have adopted bans and moratoria.

According to a fact sheet published by the White House, long-term effects of marijuana include panic attacks, strongly fluctuating emotional states, paranoia, fragmented thoughts, an illusion of insight with a real-world dulling of attention, psychotic episodes, increased heart rate, fainting and depersonalization, Peterson said. The average potency of marijuana has soared over time, and the impairment of marijuana can last weeks, months or years after use, she said.

"How could a rational, intelligent adult consent to exposing our grade school, middle school and high school children to a future that might result in more addicts rather than less so that we can increase revenue to the city?" she wondered. "After all, the discussion about whether or not to allow marijuana really comes down to a money question: Do we or do we not want to have that additional revenue stream into the City of Woodinville?"

Council members differed on the best way to protect children from marijuana.

Councilmember Liz Aspen said permitting marijuana businesses would make it more accessible to kids.

"When medical marijuana became more acceptable and allowed, I saw — I work in a middle school — a very large uptick in students bringing very potent, nasty-smelling marijuana — that I couldn’t bag enough to seal the smell out of the office — and getting very, very, very stoned on very small amounts, and that is extremely alarming," she said.

But other countries that have legalized marijuana have seen a drop in usage among kids, Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders said.

"In Portugal, when they legalized marijuana, use among children dropped by 40 percent. In the Netherlands and in Scandinavia, when they legalized marijuana, use among children dropped," Boundy-Sanders said. "So if your goal is to reduce use among children, you’re going to legalize and regulate, to take away that forbidden fruit factor that is known to be an attractant to children, to teenagers, going through their rebellious years and wanting to stick it to their parents. ... The outcomes that we want are better served by legalizing and regulating and enforcing the regulations."

Aspen and Mayor Bernie Talmas also focused on the conflict between state and federal law. Washington voters legalized marijuana with Initiative 502, and the federal government has said it doesn’t plan to prosecute marijuana sales in Washington, but Talmas said federal law takes precedence.

"I would support the legalization of marijuana ... but unfortunately, that has not gotten to Congress yet," he said. "And as elected officials, we’ve taken an oath to support the Constitution, and all these — the sale, growing, production and processing of marijuana — are still federal felonies. So as far as I’m concerned, we don’t have the authority to legalize it, and we can’t, as a city, give someone a permit to commit a federal felony."

Councilmember Paula Waters said she understands that federal law has precedence over state law, but believes "the drug war has been totally ineffective … and it has resulted in the fact that this country has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. And I think that’s immoral, I think it’s wrong."

Waters and Boundy-Sanders were the only two council members who voted against banning marijuana businesses in Woodinville.

The council’s decision came the day before the state Liquor Control Board announced changes to its marijuana policies. The LCB received more applications for marijuana producers than it expected. Issuing licenses to all those applicants would have resulted in far more than the LCB’s target of 2 million square feet of farm space. That limit was intended to create a tightly controlled market for marijuana and prevent it from being diverted to other states, according to a press release from the LCB.

The LCB voted to limit any entity to principals within an entity to one producer license, rather than the three licenses previously allowed. The LCB also reduced the amount of growing space per farm by 30 percent, to initially limit production to 70 percent.

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