Pasco moves toward banning pot businesses

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 28, 2014 

The Pasco City Council moved a step closer Monday to banning the sale, growth and processing of marijuana in the city limits.

Mayor Matt Watkins asked city staff to prepare an ordinance prohibiting marijuana-related businesses, including collective gardens for medical marijuana. Watkins and Councilmen Saul Martinez and Bob Hoffmann expressed support for a ban during the workshop meeting.

"I think the war on drugs has colossally failed and was a fundamentally flawed approach," Watkins said. "That said, it is still against the law federally."

Washington voters approved an initiative allowing marijuana sales in November 2012, though a majority of Franklin County voters opposed it. The Pasco City Council approved two six-month moratoriums on marijuana businesses, allowing the city more time to study the issue, with hope of getting more guidance from the state or other communities. The second moratorium is scheduled to expire in September.

That left the council with a choice of deciding whether to regulate marijuana businesses or tell them to keep out. The state Liquor Control Board has authorized up to four marijuana retail stores in Pasco.

Councilwoman Rebecca Francik would not allow marijuana use in her house, but said it is not her place to tell others not to use it. She was the only council member to say she would likely vote in favor of allowing the sales in the city.

"I know that Franklin County voted overwhelmingly not to approve marijuana, but we are citizens of the state of Washington and they voted yes," she said.

Francik did express support for banning medical marijuana sales, saying it was not needed if recreational marijuana is legal.

Councilmen Al Yenney and Tom Larsen said more study needs to be done on the issue, with Yenney calling for the city planning commission to make a recommendation before the council votes.

"I don't think it would be any different than to have a rezone come to us before it came to the planning commission," Yenney said. "I cannot make a decision before the planning commission does their job. Personally, I can't say, 'Yes' or 'No,' because we don't have the facts to make a decision."

The situation is different than when the planning commission recommends a zoning issue to the council, City Manager Gary Crutchfield said. In those cases, the planning commission is legally required to go first, with the council then acting as "judge and jury."

"In this case, it's a legislative matter," he said.

The city will have more problems with marijuana being legal, Martinez said.

"It's going to cause more people to use," he said. "It's going to cause a high number of accidents."

Staff will have a couple of weeks to prepare an ordinance, which the council will discuss at another workshop before voting. Watkins encouraged residents to let the city know how they feel.

Waiting a couple of weeks could also allow Councilman Mike Garrison, who is recovering from joint replacement surgery, to return for a vote, Watkins said.

No one from the public spoke at Monday's meeting.

Washington cities including Yakima and Wenatchee have banned marijuana production and sales. Cities are not allowed to outlaw the recreational use of the product.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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