By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
We have previously described events happening at city hall in Wenatchee, Washington regarding the city exercising control over the marijuana business legalized in the state. HERE and HERE The Washington State Liquor Control Board sold the licensing rights to Wenatchee to SMP Retail, LLC. The city then prohibited the business from opening its doors despite having progressed through the build-out of the business as required by the Liquor Control Board to complete the operating permit. The city council claimed it did not want to grant business licenses to those that “violated federal laws”. Despite the assurances proffered by the U.S. Justice Department that the federal government would not prosecute state licensed marijuana businesses, the city held fast and elicited the lawsuit. SMP Retail sued the City of Wenatchee in Chelan County Superior Court.
It seemed likely in a subsequent council meeting the city would reverse course on its ban as it had previously directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance removing the federal compliance requirement and allow by default the state licensed marijuana businesses to set up shop. Now it is back to prohibition.
The city council voted to impose a six month moratorium on allowing licensed retailers from operating legally within the city. The council also tabled indefinitely a proposal to amend its business license law to no longer require businesses to comply with federal laws. The amendment — proposed two weeks ago by Councilwoman Karen Rutherford — would have allowed marijuana businesses within the city.
City Attorney Steve Smith commented: “We really, as a city, haven’t spent any time formally developing regulations or reviewing our regulations. The reason you do a moratorium … is so that you can buy yourself some time to study that and not have to deal with applications in the interim.”
One could retort the city had time since the fall of last year when it legislated state licensed marijuana businesses out of the city, but it in all likelihood changed its approach when it found itself sued in Superior Court over the matter.
Coincidentally, during the same council meeting, the city attorney announced a settlement with Global Entertainment of Arizona over the Town Toyota stadium debacle that came distressingly close to bankrupting the city. The settlement amounted to a million dollars of which after legal costs the city would split five hundred and ninety thousand with the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District, which owns the arena.
One has to wonder if any of the money from the proceeds from the stadium lawsuit or the fact the law firm of the City Attorney proffered it would represent the city free of charge had anything to do with swaying the council to impose the marijuana moratorium.
As mentioned in a previous article the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to assist in the case on the side of marijuana retailer SMP Retail against the city, vowing to take the issue to the Supreme Court. How “free” of cost by the law firm’s offer this will represent to the city if the case goes that far hopefully will be factored in for future retainer costs.
The state already restrains marijuana retailers by significant regulation as to location and other issues the city could adopt by reference. But, instead, a few words of an ordinance must be maintained guaranteeing a lawsuit against the city that someone is going to have to pay for. And, that it could ultimately lose along with tax revenue and distractions from other important issues.
Yet, during the council meeting an amount of irony surely could have been recognized between the past stadium lawsuit and the present marijuana one; as Councilman Jim Bailey expressed: “Originally, we just wanted to be done with all this. [The Stadium Debacle] But on second thought, we saw an opportunity that there might be a few dollars out there. We were able to do that without costing us an arm and a leg. I think we have covered our due diligence in looking after taxpayer dollars.”
All cities in Chelan County: Wenatchee; Cashmere; Leavenworth; and Chelan, have either banned legal and licensed marijuana retailers or imposed prohibition by moratorium. Consumers now must travel to other counties it seems to buy legal weed or perhaps continue to purchase it from the alley behind a tavern or from a salesman with the South Side Locos, or the Colonia Chiques franchisees of Mara Salvatrucha.
It seems issuing a business permit to a state licensed retailer presents too many problems for the City Council of Wenatchee.
By Darren Smith
City of Wenatchee
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