The little city that made state history last week as one of the first to allow recreational pot sales may now ban medicinal marijuana over legal concerns.
Thursday, city officials in Prosser plan to review a proposal to effectively prohibit the production or distribution of medicinal pot. The meeting comes on the heels of long lines of customers last week making the first legal recreational purchases in state history at Altitude, a Prosser shop.
The suggestion of a medicinal ban, still early in the planning stages, could put the city of 5,800 on the opposite path of the majority of their neighbors throughout the Yakima Valley and Mid-Columbia. All of the Tri-Cities cities and most cities in Yakima County have passed bans on recreational stores, which the state began licensing last month, but have taken little, if any, action on medicinal sales.
Currently, the state’s Liquor Control Board regulates and licenses growers, packers and retailers of recreational sales in the wake of Initiative 502, passed in November 2012 by state voters. Altitude was one of the first 24 stores in the state to receive a license and was one of only two in southeastern Washington to open last week.
Medical marijuana has been legal with a prescription since 1998, when state voters approved Initiative 692. Legislative attempts to regulate medicinal sales through a registry failed in 2011.
The gutted law has left no state agency with any say over medicinal grows and sales. City officials, even those who favor medicinal marijuana in principle, feared the lack of oversight makes medicinal sales more risky for the city legally than recreational sales.
“I don’t have a problem with (medicinal marijuana), but I want the state to regulate it,” said Steven Becken, a city councilman.
“I don’t want a free-for-all.”
As for recreational marijuana, the state now allows it regardless of how he or Prosser residents feel. A handful of protesters have picketed City Hall and Prosser’s new pot shop.
“There’s a lot of state laws a lot of us don’t like,” Becken said.
Scott Hamilton, another city councilman and former police chief, opposes any form of marijuana other than medicinal sales, but only if they are dispensed by a licensed pharmacy.
“The state has got this thing backwards,” Hamilton said.
Thursday, the city’s appointed planning commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed set of restrictions for both medicinal and recreational pot facilities. If the commission approves the proposals, the body would then submit them as a recommendation for the City Council to pass into city code.
Among the suggestions is a requirement that all medicinal community gardens and dispensaries have a state license. The move would amount to a ban because the state has no such license, said Steve Zetz, Prosser city planner.
The city has a moratorium on medicinal marijuana facilities that lasts into October.
Also in the planning commission’s proposal is a requirement that all Prosser marijuana farms be inside a building, while state law requires only a fence, and that medicinal gardens not be located in residential areas.
The commission also aims to discuss adding tighter restrictions on hours, parking and security than called for by state laws to the proposal, though Altitude would be exempt because it has already opened.
The planning commissions meets at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 601 S. Seventh St.