A majority of Woodinville voters supported legalizing marijuana with Initiative 502, but they may not be able to buy weed within Woodinville’s city limits. The City Council is considering zoning regulations that would ban recreational marijuana stores anywhere in the city limits.
Woodinville’s Ordinance 541 already prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens within the city. At the Oct. 8 meeting, the council and city staff discussed whether that would also prohibit recreational marijuana, and whether or not the council wanted to ban recreational marijuana stores.
City Attorney Greg Rubstello said that Ordinance 541 prohibits any land use that violates federal law, which would include marijuana stores, but the council could add language to specifically prohibit recreational marijuana sales as well.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but Dave Kuhl, director of development services for Woodinville, explained to the council that the federal government has "basically said they don’t have the resources to enforce this."
The state Liquor Control Board didn’t allocate any marijuana retail outlets for Woodinville when it announced the allocation of stores last month, but King County can have 11 stores "at-large," for which the WSLCB could issue permits in Woodinville.
Brian Smith, communications director for the WSLCB, said that I-502 allows cities to restrict the location of marijuana stores with zoning rules, but cities can’t ban marijuana stores entirely.
"There’s nothing in I-502 that allows a community to opt out," he said.
He added that if Woodinville prohibited marijuana stores in the city, that wouldn’t prevent the WSLCB from giving someone a license to open a store in Woodinville, but that person couldn’t open the business without complying with city zoning laws.
I-502 already prohibits marijuana stores within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, daycares, arcades and other places geared toward children, but Kuhl suggested the council could create more restrictive rules about where marijuana retailers can set up shop.
"Lots of cities use industrial zones, the same way they do with adult entertainment, as it tends to keep it out of the way of families and other operations," Kuhl said."
Council members’ opinions varied widely, from Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders, who tentatively advocated for allowing marijuana stores, to Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen, who emphatically argued against them. Councilmember Paulette Bauman also opposed them, but less strongly. Mayor Bernie Talmas and Councilmember Scott Hageman suggested waiting to see how other cities handle the issue. (Councilmembers Art Pregler and Les Rubstello were absent.)
Boundy-Sanders pointed out that allowing marijuana stores would bring in money from taxes and tourism, support the wishes of voters (a majority of whom, in every precinct of Woodinville, voted yes on I-502) and hopefully make the use and sale of marijuana safer.
"There’s already the demand and the consumption in a black market," she said. "If you have the white market sales, you know how much is being consumed, you know the quality of what’s being consumed, and you can audit the books of the retailers" to make sure the money isn’t going to criminal activities.
Aspen, on the other hand, stressed the health risks of marijuana and the chance of it getting to minors. Although I-502 legalizes marijuana only for adults over 21, Aspen, who works at a school, said students have already found it easier to get marijuana after medical marijuana became legal.
"It really frightens me to think that this is going to be happening in our state. It really does," she said. "I’ve seen permanent effects on people that are adults now that are 40 going on 15, and it is real that it permanently damages your brain and your ability to make decisions.
"And if anyone thinks it’s not addictive, just like alcohol, you can become an alcoholic, you can become addicted to marijuana."
People who want to use marijuana can "go to Redmond or Kirkland or Bothell to get their fix," she said, but it’s "too scary and too new and too uncontrolled" for her to condone it in Woodinville.
Talmas questioned whether the council’s responsibility as elected officials was to uphold state or federal law. He acknowledged that a majority of Woodinville voters supported legalizing marijuana, but that anyone who wanted to buy it could do so in another city.
"My concern is that since we’re a small town, physically as well as population, it’s not the issue that I’d want to take the lead on and run risks …" he said. "So my preference would be to do a moratorium and see what other cities do and what the effects are."
The council moved to have staff draft language for two possible ordinances — one that would ban marijuana stores, and another that would enact a moratorium for the council to study the issue more and perhaps eventually develop regulations that would allow stores in some locations.
Aspen, Bauman and Hageman voted yes on the motion; Talmas and Boundy-Sanders were opposed.
Neither the ban nor the moratorium will go into effect without another vote from the council.