Residents back pot delays

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 3, 2013 

Tri-City residents interested in opening marijuana-related businesses told the Kennewick City Council that they supported cities taking six months to figure out how to make Initiative 502 work.

But Kennewick and Richland city councils heard local residents voice opposition for any pot sales in the cities during two public hearings Tuesday.

And the Kennewick City Council expressed serious reservations about how marijuana-related businesses would affect public safety.

So far, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has received applications for seven retail locations in Benton and Franklin counties, 22 producers and 10 processors.

Licenses may be issued as soon as March, with legal sales beginning as early as June.

The liquor control board plans to allow up to four stores each in Kennewick and Pasco, three in Richland, one in West Richland, two in Benton County outside the three larger cities and one in Franklin County outside Pasco. Applications for marijuana producing and processing businesses do not have those restrictions.

Both Kennewick and Richland currently have a six-month moratorium on pot-related businesses within city limits. Pasco has a 12-month moratorium.

Tara Caldwell of Kennewick told her council that six months is an appropriate amount of time to make decisions on pot-related businesses.

She said she hopes to open a business in Kennewick producing and processing marijuana and wants to do it the right way.

Richard Dignum of Pasco told the Kennewick council that he's already spent money to open a retail location in Kennewick. He said he thinks the Tri-City area, being more conservative, could set standards for the state on how to deal with marijuana-related businesses. He asked that council consider allowing retail locations.

At the Richland City Council meeting, two people spoke at a public hearing, both expressing concern about marijuana-related businesses opening in the city.

"I have a problem with marijuana -- I don't like its availability," said one of the speakers, Aaron Allen of Richland. "I vote that we find a way to make it so that marijuana is not available to the public within the city of Richland, where they have to leave the city in order to acquire the stuff."

The cities are still waiting to hear from the state on how the differences between the recreational marijuana law and the medical marijuana law will be dealt with, said Lisa Beaton, Kennewick's city attorney.

They are also waiting to hear whether cities are allowed to outright ban pot-related businesses, or whether they can adopt requirements that make such businesses impractical, she said.

The Kennewick council seemed to be leaning toward extending the moratorium for 12 months, but put off making a decision until its Dec. 17 meeting.

"I think it is really important that we go slow," said Kennewick Councilman Don Britain.

Kennewick Councilman Bob Parks said he wouldn't have a problem if the federal government would say recreational pot was legal. But it hasn't.

Parks said he remains concerned about public safety with all of the restrictions that marijuana-related businesses face. He pointed out that under state law, those businesses are not allowed to have armed security at their facilities.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said Kennewick has had about 30 marijuana-related home invasions, burglaries and robberies since 2009. And that is only the ones that have been reported.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said one challenge is that the state has determined the cities will get no revenue from marijuana production and sales, other than sales tax. Yet it is the cities that have to legislate it, enforce it and provide for it, he said.

-- Reporter Sara Schilling contributed to this story.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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