City Council hears residents out on marijuana stores

Hearing on the emergency six-month moratorium on retail marijuana brought various views to council

Staff writerJune 11, 2014 

Mayor Jill Guernsey estimated that 27 people addressed the Gig Harbor City Council on Monday night during a hearing on the six-month moratorium on retail marijuana sales.

“I have never seen such a passionate and yet respectful crowd,” Guernsey said.

At the end of more than an hour of testimony, the Council decided to not act on the moratorium, leaving it in place. It is due to expire in October, but drafts of city code could come to the Council as early as July.

At the meeting, some that testified said that legal marijuana was voted in by the will of the people; others claimed that retail stores would proliferate the use of marijuana in the city.

The six-month moratorium on retail marijuana was passed by the Council on April 14 without public hearing. As an “emergency moratorium” it was able to pass so long as a hearing was held within 60 days.

Monday, that hearing became a standing room only meeting that fostered discussion on issues larger than just stores. It brought discussion about usage, the black market, elections and more.

Many came to voice support to a school board resolution that voiced opposition to marijuana in the city limits. The resolution is not included in the city’s moratorium.

School board president Harlan Gallinger and board member Rand Wilhelmsen presented the resolution to the Council. Gallinger said he was representing 9,000 district students who could not vote, claiming that marijuana would be a “barrier to (their) success.”

Tedd Wetherbee, owner of The Gallery, holds a license in the city has been working with the Council to resolve the issue so he can open his outlet.

Wetherbee’s testimony thanked the council for patience and involvement over the last few weeks.

“Spending time with most of you has allowed us to open up dialog that has brought education to both sides,” he said.

Archelle Reynolds, a former school board member, said that a ban on regulated marijuana won’t change the issues being cited.

“I wish, I really wish, that just saying no to retail sales in Gig Harbor would just fix the problem, but I don’t think it will,” she said.

Many that spoke do feel that stores will increase the access of marijuana to students. However, the law states that only those over the age of 21 can buy retail marijuana.

Carol Focht, who works at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, didn’t plan on speaking.

“I just came because I was encouraged to come, but this is a subject I feel very passionate about,” she said. “Pot is a gateway drug.”

Focht said that in her work at Chapel Hill she knows of high school students in Gig Harbor — including members football teams, baseball teams and 4.0 GPA students — who use marijuana. In her estimation, allowing another point of access will stoke the fire.

Chapel Hill presented a resolution. The church advocates keeping the moratorium and even expanding to an outright ban. Other churches submitted official statements to the Council, but a majority of those that testified identified as members of Chapel Hill.

In the end, the council decided to continue with the moratorium weigh the impact of retail marijuana. Council member Michael Perrow defined the moratorium as a “time out” while the state gets “its act together.”

Wetherbee, in a follow-up interview, said he was both pleased and troubled by the testimony. He said that one side included both young and old; left-leaning and right-leaning. The other side was largely made up of members of similar churches and interest groups.

“The voices that spoke in favor of lifting the moratorium represented a cross section of Gig Harbor,” he said. “The opposition was long on opinion and short on fact.”

The meeting wasn’t entirely about marijuana, however.

The Council and the school district had further business together on Monday, as the Council passed two resolutions voicing support for the district’s upcoming bond and levy proposition.

Co-chair of Stand Up for Schools Leslie Harbaugh and Gallinger spoke in the public hearing. The Council unanimously passed the resolutions of support.

The Council will next meet at 5:30 p.m. June 23 at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St.

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