The confusion about what legalization of recreational marijuana will mean for municipalities has left the Kennewick City Council without a clear direction on how to comply with state and federal laws.
Council members Tuesday debated what to do about a situation they all agreed has continued to be "a mess."
They scheduled a Dec. 3 public hearing after they recently approved a six-month moratorium on any marijuana-related businesses within city boundaries.
Richland, Pasco and West Richland all have similar moratoriums.
The state is in the process of creating rules to govern the regulation and taxation of the production, processing and retail sale of marijuana, and will begin to accept businesses licenses for that purpose on Nov. 18. Licenses may be issued as soon as March, with legal sales beginning as early as June.
But the state has yet to figure out how to fix the disconnect between the state's medical marijuana law and recreational marijuana, which will be regulated, taxed and licensed, said Lisa Beaton, Kennewick's city attorney.
The Washington State Attorney General's Office has been asked to issue opinions on whether local governments can ban marijuana-related businesses or effectively make marijuana-related businesses impractical through land use rules and business licensing requirements, Beaton said.
Kennewick has been assigned a limit of four retail outlets by the state, Beaton said. There are no state limits on the number of production and processing facilities. Beaton told the council she was surprised by the number of contacts the city already has received from Washington residents interested in opening pot-related businesses in Kennewick. While people must be state residents for a minimum of three months, they do not have to live within the city, she said.
After the Dec. 3 public hearing, the council can decide to repeal the moratorium, maintain it, extend it to a full year or repeal it and then outright ban marijuana-related businesses, she said.
Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said the city should wait to see what happens in Wenatchee, which banned pot-related businesses.
"There is no risk to a moratorium," he said.
Councilman Paul Parish said he remains concerned about the affect the legalization of recreational marijuana will have on the police department, especially because the state is not passing on any of the money from pot sales to cover those costs.
Councilman Bob Parks said whether the city council agrees with a business or not, the city needs to be able to provide an answer to those interested in opening businesses. Young said that's why the public hearing is critical.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org