The Metropolitan King County Council imposed an emergency, four-month moratorium on legal marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas. It gave no public notice in advance of the action but must hold a hearing within 60 days.
Without a public notice, hearing or debate, the Metropolitan King County Council imposed a four-month moratorium on legal pot businesses in unincorporated areas.
In an 8-1 vote Monday, council members said the moratorium on growers and processors was spurred by a community meeting earlier this month in Ravensdale at which roughly 100 people registered opposition to pot businesses.
The council decided to extend the moratorium to retailers as well after hearing that shops were clustering in parts of Skyway and White Center.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who represents rural areas, sponsored the emergency proposal. He said the lack of public input was necessary. Had the council not moved in stealthy fashion, Dunn said, pot entrepreneurs would have flooded the county with applications in advance of a moratorium.
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The emergency moratorium took effect Monday, after the council’s vote. It prohibits King County from accepting or issuing any permits for pot businesses. The county must hold a public hearing within 60 days to allow feedback.
Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said she voted against the moratorium because of the lack of public input. “I’m not comfortable with what’s happening,” Kohl-Welles said.
In the 2012 state election, 63.5 percent of King County voters supported Initiative 502 legalizing marijuana. All but 5 percent of the precincts throughout King County supported I-502. The weakest support came in Maple Valley, Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Federal Way and Hunts Point. But even in those cities, a majority voted in favor of the initiative.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski called the moratorium a “blunt instrument that puts the brakes on the industry countywide and is going to cause disruptions in dozens of businesses.” Dembowksi also said he hadn’t seen adverse impacts from the legal pot industry. But he voted for the moratorium after successfully proposing that it be reduced from six months to four months.
Dunn and several other council members said they did not support a lasting ban on legal business. But Dunn likened the lack of restrictions on growers and processors in the county’s rural residential areas to the “wild West.”
It wasn’t clear from the council’s comments what the chief problem was with growers and processors.
Councilmember Kathy Lambert said residents at the Ravensdale meeting were concerned about property values. Lambert also complained about the smell of marijuana, although she referred to the smell of an illegal growing operation before I-502 passed. “Air quality is the most important issue,” she said.
Dunn cited crime as a problem but couldn’t point to any examples in King County. He said lighting and odor also were problems.
Councilmember Larry Gossett advocated for extending the moratorium to retailers. Gossett said he was concerned about shops clustering in less-affluent areas such as Skyway and White Center. Skyway resident Mark Johnston told the council that Skyway has five pot shops; eight stores have been licensed in White Center.
Johnston said he hadn’t known about the proposed moratorium and it was just “dumb luck” that he showed up to testify and apparently influenced the council.