Everett imposes cap on pot shops

EVERETT — The Everett City Council has said “no more” to would-be marijuana retailers.

On Wednesday the council imposed a cap on the number of shops operating in the city, limiting the number to the five shops already open. The cap will last a minimum of two years.

The 4-2 vote came after weeks of debate that was thought to have been put to rest after the city adopted its “permanent” ordinance last July.

What changed since then was the state Liquor and Cannabis Board’s decision to double the number of retail shops allowed in each municipality, an attempt to compensate for the fact that most medical marijuana dispensaries across the state are being shut down mid-year.

That move caught a number of people by surprise.

Councilman Scott Bader cited that lack of warning, plus the fact that aside from Everett, only Lake Stevens and Snohomish County have allowed retailers to open, as reasons for putting a cap in place. Most other cities in the county have imposed moratoria or outright bans on retail operations.

“I feel Everett fulfilled its original obligation, and at the time no one mentioned that five stores wasn’t going to be enough,” Bader said.

“It’s time for others jurisdictions to step forward before we become the place to get marijuana,” he said.

Bader was joined by councilmembers Jeff Moore, Scott Murphy and Cassie Franklin in approving the cap.

The majority was supported by a number of people in recent weeks who encouraged the council to adopt the cap, citing reasons ranging from public perception to health concerns.

“While these stores are recognized by Washington law, they do not improve the quality of life in Everett,” resident Alan Poul said.

Poul also encouraged the city council to push back against any further efforts by the state to increase the number of pot shops in the city.

Jessica Jordan, the owner of Mari J’s Highway Pot Shop in southeast Everett, also testified in favor of the cap. She said after the meeting that her concerns are primarily about large operators moving into the city and squeezing out smaller shops like hers.

Given the high taxes imposed on the industry, Jordan said her break-even point is around $200,000 in monthly sales, which she has not yet achieved since opening last summer.

The state is attempting to merge the unregulated medical marijuana industry into the highly regulated recreational industry. That is part of an agreement the state has with the federal government, in return for which the U.S. Department of Justice said in a 2013 memo that it would deemphasize enforcement against the new legal operators in the industry.

The increase in the number of retailers, plus the issuing of new medical endorsements for those stores, was intended to ensure a continued supply of medical cannabis products for approved patients.

Allan Giffen, Everett’s director of planning, said four out of the five shops in the city have obtained or are in the process of getting medical endorsements.

Councilman Paul Roberts said there wasn’t an assurance that the current five stores will fulfill the demand for medical products.

“What we ought to be doing is (ensuring that) if you’re going to be selling marijuana under the retail here that you’re also providing the medical here,” Roberts said.

He said he felt the city’s current regulations were enough to address concerns. He was joined by councilwoman Judy Tuohy in voting against the cap.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, who also has argued against the cap, was absent from the meeting.

A number of people representing the medical marijuana industry, as well as some patients, also tried to prevent the cap from being enacted.

Sean O’Sullivan, a lobbyist for the industry, testified that even if the current retailers offered medical products, it wasn’t certain whether it would be enough, and certainly the profit motive would encourage them to sell the more expensive retail products.

“The dollars are going to come from the recreational shops, and they’re going to charge as much as they can,” O’Sullivan said.

The ordinance requires the city council to review its policy before June 1, 2018 to determine whether the cap should be changed.

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

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