Until the haze surrounding legalities of a voter-approved marijuana initiative clears, the city of Spokane Valley will continue to walk the middle ground on the issue for the time being.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the City Council, Erik Lamb, deputy city attorney, briefed the council regarding the current status of Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use – to a certain extent, anyway – in Washington state. While voters passed the initiative last November, I-502 still contradicts federal laws that criminalize pot use and possession.
Until state and federal lawmakers clarify matters, this puts cities like Spokane Valley in a bit of a quandary.
“This presents a thorny issue, whether federal law preempts state law,” Lamb told the council.
Across Washington, municipal and county governments have all been faced with the same issue: Where to locate businesses looking to sell marijuana and its associated paraphernalia. By December of this year, the state needs to have rules adopted governing the growing and selling off pot, and licenses need to be issued at that time.
Like liquor licenses in the past, cities can object to marijuana licenses being issued. The state expects to start issuing license later this summer.
“We don’t know how many (requests for licenses) there will be,” Lamb said.
Some jurisdictions – like the city of Spokane – have imposed six-month moratoriums on issuing such licenses in order to kick the can down the curb in order to give officials more time to study the issue and its ramifications. However, Lamb said that’s merely delaying the inevitable as moratoriums can’t last indefinitely. The city of Cheney, for example, recently rescinded its own six-month moratorium.
I-502 is specific in its language that a 1,000-square-foot buffer zone around “sensitive uses” like schools, churches, daycare centers, parks, pools and recreation centers is a necessary separation from locales selling marijuana. While city staffers have identified those areas, Lamb said there is some question on what the definitions of those places are. Is the Centennial Trail a park? Is Oz Fitness a recreation center? Some clarification from state officials is hoped for, Lamb said.
With state excise taxes on pot sales, processing and growing (25 percent each) going to a dedicated “marijuana fund” to be used for state general fund and drug-education purposes, only B&O taxes on production and local retail sales taxes will go to local jurisdictions.
Then, there’s the issue of medical marijuana, which was unaffected by I-502’s passage. Lamb said the city takes a “middle path” by issuing business licenses under state law, which legitimizes Spokane Valley’s recognition of the spirit of the law. However, the city also provides a disclaimer that it “makes no statement” on the legality of medical marijuana.
Until the state gets to the point where it starts issuing business licenses, questions will remain.
“In all, I don’t think we need to do anything right now,” Lamb said.
In other news, the council affirmed Mayor Tom Towey’s choice to appoint land surveyor Michael Phillips to the city Planning Commission, filling the vacancy created when former member Rod Higgins was appointed last month to the City Council. Phillips has lived in Spokane Valley for 36 years and is a graduate of Central Valley High School.
The only other applicant to the Planning Commission was sam Wood, a real estate appraiser.