By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
We reported last week of the City of Wenatchee prohibiting state licensed marijuana retailers and as a result a future retailer filed a civil suit against the city in Superior Court. It appears now the city council is trying to reverse its earlier position.
On Thursday of this week, the council held a public meeting after an executive council possibly discussing legal issues the city might face. During the public portion a majority of council members voted to direct the city attorney to draft an amendment to the ordinance that would omit a clause in the business licensing ordinance requiring businesses be compliant with federal law to be permitted to operate in the city.
One can probably surmise what instigated the city to have a change of heart, but the American Civil Liberties Union stated recently they would join the plaintiff’s case and were prepared to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme court.
The council meeting minutes had a rather curious entry regarding the executive session.
3:45 p.m. Executive Session to discuss with legal counsel representing the agency matters relating to agency enforcement actions, and to discuss with legal counsel representing the agency litigation or potential litigation to which the agency, the governing body, or a member acting in an official capacity is, or is likely to become, a party, when public knowledge regarding the discussion is likely to result in adverse legal or financial consequence to the agency. RCW 42.30.110(1)(i)
Councilwoman Karen Rutherford proposed the amendment during the meeting stating:
The citizens of the state of Washington, and the citizens of Chelan County, and the citizens of Wenatchee voted to approve the legalization of marijuana. Now we as a city need to look at how to make that possible…We would need to drop that federal requirement to allow a (marijuana) business permit. I believe our citizens who have voted for legalization of marijuana need us to take that step.
Two councilmen voted against the proposal stating they feared in doing so the city would be required to other businesses such as strip clubs and gambling establishments..
During this council meeting the city was ready to place a moratorium in place banning marijuana businesses for six months but after the lawsuit removed this from the agenda.
Recently it was revealed the ACLU would join the lawsuit against the city of the city elected to litigate. The organization stated it would like to appeal the matter potentially to the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling on whether federal law can supercede state laws regarding marijuana legalization.
Councilman Keith Huffaker, who formerly staunchly opposed the marijuana business licensing now stated he supports the drafting of the new ordinance, saying it would allow the public an opportunity for public discussion on the issue.
Timing issues seemed to not be in favor of the city’s debate on the matter. The city has until June 24th to respond to the lawsuit. However, the next council meeting to rule on any adoption of the amended ordinance will not occur until the 26th. Due to this the council has directed the city attorney to file a response indicating the city would contest the matter. The likely reason for this is to avoid a possible default judgment against the city for failure to respond because the city has not adopted the ordinance pursuant to council meeting open hearings laws.
If the council votes to amend the ordinance the effective date is normally thirty days but the city attorney mentioned this could be done in five.
Marijuana retails may open for business in Washington beginning July first.
This misadventure to befall the City of Wenatchee could spawn in other cities and counties throughout the state where city councils and county commissioners have prohibited budding marijuana businesses. It might be prudent for these municipalities to follow suit and prevent tax dollars from going up in smoke; especially when the ACLU might get a whiff and want to join the party.
By Darren Smith
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