City moritorium checkmates marijuana lottery winners

Six-month ban on retail pot stores means winners of the coveted licenses will not be able to open just yet

Staff writerMay 7, 2014 

The state Liquor Control Board’s recent lottery for retail marijuana licenses yielded a few Gig Harbor “winners.”

However, no businesses are going to open any time soon, due to a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana in the city.

Tedd Wetherbee, an entrepreneur who owns a potential retail outlet called the Gallery, scored numbers two and nine of the Pierce County at-large locations in the lottery. Pierce County at large is allotted 17 retail licenses. The results of the draw were announced on Friday.

Wetherbee’s proposed outlet is at 5775 Soundview Drive.

Six other persons with Gig Harbor addresses won slots in the lottery, but so far they have not stepped forward publicly. Wetherbee said some of them may turn out to have addresses invalid for licensing because they are too close to one another, to schools, or some other reason.

Retail licensing of marijuana is the result of voter passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, which made the sale of recreational marijuana legal in Washington. The lottery was necessary because more people applied for licenses than the law allots.

In April, the Gig Harbor City Council passed an emergency moratorium on issuing permits for retail marijuana outlets. It will expire in October.,

Wetherbee said he is frustrated with the city’s decision. He has already begun to build out his space. He also plans to open an outlet in Fife, but he had hoped The Gallery would debut in Gig Harbor.

“I’ve spent almost two full years of my life on this (and) to get slot number two and number nine out of 17 is a personal triumph,” Wetherbee said. “But it’s of absolutely no use if local municipalities continue to chose what state laws they enact and which ones they don’t.”

The only way the moratorium will be lifted between now and October is if the council takes action on one or both of the issues cited: a non-traditional school site and collective gardening rules.

Senior Planner Lindsey Sehmel said she has been given no instructions from the council to outright ban retail marijuana in the city limits.

The city’s rules for retail marijuana are laid out in Municipal Code 17.63,adopted in September 2013. The April moratorium proposes possible changes to that code.

“If we do anything in between … it would be amending 17.63 to address those issues,” she said.

Previously, Sehmel said, the city adopted a 2,500-foot buffer rule. That buffer prevents retail businesses from being within 2,500 feet of other retail marijuana outlets. That means that lottery winners too close together are invalidated.

NON TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS

The most divisive issue is the “Community Transition Program” or CTP, run by the Peninsula School District.

CTP is for individuals age 18 to 21, according to the District’s website. Its’ goal is to help young adults transition into jobs.

CTP is located on Soundview Drive and would be less than 1,000 feet from Wetherbee’s location. Therefore, his address would become invalid.

According to Peninsula School District spokesperson Kathy Weymiller, CTP serves more than 20 special-needs students aged 18 to 21.

Weymiller said the students at CTP use the site as a base as they come and go from community jobs, including placing silverware in napkins for local restaurants and working in laundromats.

Also in the Soundview building with CTP is the Peninsula Internet Academy, also run by the school district. It is open to high school students who take online courses offsite.

Perrow says that location is a school, but wasn’t recognized by the state when retail marijuana buffers were drafted.

“We’re waiting to figure out if the state is going to recognize the fact that this is a school,” he said.

Wetherbee says that if the programs are not determined by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, then the location is not an official school site.

REVENUE SHARING

Though not explicitly cited in Gig Harbor’s ordinance, Sehmel said cities are having a hard time backing retail marijuana when all the tax money goes to the state.

Sehmel said the city would get the sales tax on items sold in city limits.

Wetherbee thinks cities are forced to create problems thanks to the one-sided revenue sharing. Growers and distributors would back cities, in his view.

“That’s a complete 100 percent valid argument,” Wetherbee said.

The Association of Washington Cities, AWC, says there will be up to 75 percent excise tax on retail marijuana, but none of those dollars will go to cities.

Council member Steve Ekberg says, overall, the state’s handling of the rollout seems shambolic.

“My biggest concern on the whole thing is the state doesn’t seem to have their act together,” he said.

PUBLIC COMMENT

The next step for the city is a public hearing of the moratorium at a council meeting. 5:30 p.m. June 9 at the Civic Center. Wetherbee says that he feels supported by the community. He lives here, has joined the Chamber of Commerce and wants to do business here.

He also says that I-502 is the will of the people and should move ahead.

“There’s going to be a large contingent speaking to the city on June 9,” Wetherbee said.

No action will be taken at the hearing. Sehmel said that emergency moratoriums require a public hearing within 60 days.

The city has had moratoriums before, usually concerning changes in the zoning code, said Ekberg. It’s good to have moratoriums, he said, in order to take things slow when making changes.

“They’re not something that is fun, but what it does is gives everybody a chance to take pause,” he said.

The Peninsula Gateway is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service