The city of Blaine is trying to manage the maze that new state marijuana laws have created.
At the November 25 city council meeting, the council reviewed regulations for the sale and production of marijuana, and approved an ordinance to amend the city’s zoning laws to accommodate the legalization of the recreational drug.
“This is one of the more unique things that you will do in your career as politicians,” said community planner Michael Jones to the council, “and one of the more unique things I will ever do as a community planner.”
State voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, which decriminalized the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purpose for persons 21 and older. The new law established a licensing system for the production, processing and retail sales of marijuana and marijuana products.
The Liquor Control Board (LCB) was tasked with developing state regulations and a licensing system and recently began accepting applications from individuals interested in entering the marijuana marketplace in one of the three functions listed above. In turn, cities need to either declare a moratorium until they have determined the direction they want to take, declare the substance illegal within the city limits or establish rules for the production, processing and sale of the drug.
“Would we face a lot more legal issues if we don’t have something written down?” asked council member Charlie Hawkins.
“I would feel more comfortable if I were following the rules implemented by the city instead of just interpreting state law,” Jones replied, adding that staff were already receiving calls from individuals interested in the opportunities legalization affords. “We don’t have any applications yet,” he said. “But we have received several phone calls.”
The new ordinance defines the zoning and business licensing requirements for the production and sale of marijuana in the city limits.
“The text eliminates greenhouses,” Jones said, noting that outdoor growing is strictly prohibited by the ordinance. “Growing marijuana is only permitted indoors in areas that are zoned for manufacturing. Sales can only happen in areas that are zoned for retail. And you can’t do any of these things within 1,000 feet of sensitive areas. That limits the areas that are eligible for this use.”
Sensitive areas are defined as any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, childcare center, public park, public transit center, library or game arcade that allows minors to enter.
According to Jones’ presentation at council, the areas eligible for production and processing facilities are the manufacturing zoned areas, the largest of which is on the southeast side of the city. The zones most likely to allow for retail exist in several areas throughout the city.
But those are just preliminary lines drawn based on exsitingbusinesses. The eligible zones can change depending on the type of businesses that set up shop there.
“We’ll have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis,” Jones said, “to make sure no sensitive areas have moved in.”
Fifteen stores in Whatcom County will be allowed to sell marijuana next year, under the rules approved by the LCB on September 4. Of those licenses, Bellingham will receive six, and Ferndale and Lynden would each receive one. “Cities that have a population of 10,000 or greater have a specific allocation,” Jones said. “Any other area in the county is entitled to have the unallocated licenses. The state licenses are issued by the LCB and are first come, first served. Where they land is up to the market.”
Council voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance establishing the land use regulations, with council member Bonnie Onyon opposed.
“I’m against it being made in the city of Blaine,” she said. “I don’t want to see it happen here, so I’m going to check into see if we can abide by federal laws instead of state laws, do some research and then bring it up again to council. I know there are others in the community who feel the same way.”