Marysville bans recreational marijuana businesses

MARYSVILLE — After months of debate and watching how a new industry is taking shape across the state, the City Council here has enacted a ban on all recreational marijuana businesses.

Marysville joins an increasing number of communities across Washington that are moving beyond the “study” phase of Initiative 502, which voters passed in 2012, and are enacting laws that will govern how marijuana businesses will operate.

While some municipalities — including Everett, Lake Stevens, Arlington and Snohomish County — have adopted zoning regulations that allow marijuana-based businesses in certain areas, Marysville is among a smaller number of jurisdictions, such as Monroe and Pierce County, which are prohibiting all marijuana businesses.

City Council president Jeffrey Vaughan said members tried to keep an open mind and render a fair decision on what the city should adopt. The vote on April 28 was 6-0 to prohibit all marijuana businesses.

The city had passed a moratorium in September, and a committee studied and submitted findings to the city’s planning commission, which then recommended the ban.

“In the end I felt, for me, the detriments outweighed any benefits of allowing those facilities,” Vaughan said.

One of those detriments was the fact that I-502’s restrictions on zoning would have confined marijuana producers and processors to the light industrial neighborhoods at the north end of the city.

Marysville has several hundred acres of undeveloped land in that area, and the presence of marijuana facilities there, or even the potential that one might later move in, might be seen as a detriment to businesses the city would like to attract, especially if they come from outside Washington, Vaughan said.

Vaughan mentioned that he recently had out-of-state visitors at his company, whom he showed around the area, including downtown Seattle.

“What was interesting to me is that they were not impressed with what they saw with the openness and availability of marijuana,” he said.

Mayor Jon Nehring, who doesn’t have a vote on the council, said that the city’s police department, the Marysville School District and many members of the public opposed allowing pot businesses in town and were concerned about potential negative impact, with not much upside.

An non-binding opinion issued by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson earlier this year said cities have the right to ban marijuana facilities. That gave the prohibition argument more life.

Then a bill in the Legislature that would have allowed municipalities to share in marijuana tax revenue, while preventing cities from banning pot businesses, died in committee.

“From the way (I-502) was set up, the state gets the majority of the revenue, and the local municipalities are stuck with all the impacts,” Nehring said. “Do we really want to be the ones to take on those impacts?”

In the end, the council voted unanimously to enact the ban, a move Vaughan said was prudent and wise and intended to protect the city’s youth and families.

The vote came as the state began issuing licenses for marijuana retail stores. In some cities, including Marysville, the state conducted a lottery to award a limited number of licenses.

The three businesses awarded a license in Marysville will now need to look elsewhere.

Any changes to the city’s ordinance would only come after there has been time to see what effects this new business will have in Washington, Vaughan said.

“The fact is we just don’t know,” Vaughan said. “It’s so new, as far as the nation goes, we’re really the tip of the spear here,” he added.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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