No welcome yet for pot shops in many Washington cities

Many municipalities, including those in Clark County, proceed with caution

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SEATTLE — Sales of recreational marijuana are due to start in Washington in late spring, but there’s no welcome mat — at least not yet — for pot businesses in dozens of cities around the state.

A Seattle-based marijuana think tank, The Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, surveyed the 75 most populous cities in Washington to look at how local governments are handling the state’s ­legal pot law, Initiative 502. The survey found that a few cities, including Lakewood, Wenatchee and SeaTac, have effectively banned or threatened to ban pot businesses until the drug is legalized federally, and just less than three dozen cities ranging from Redmond to Pullman have imposed moratoriums of six months to one year. Officials in about two dozen cities have passed zoning rules dictating where the shops, gardens and processing facilities can open, and 14 of the cities had taken no action.

In Clark County, jurisdictions are waiting several months to issue business licenses to retail marijuana operations, according to The Columbian. To buy more time, jurisdictions including Vancouver, unincorporated Clark County, Washougal, Camas and Ridgefield have placed temporary moratoriums on the sale of recreational marijuana. Battle Ground hasn’t addressed the issue.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, said he expects more cities to lift their moratoriums in the next few months.

“What we heard from many of the cities and ­local governments was that they needed a little time to prepare for what the implementation of I-502 means at the local level,” he said. “Those that have a ban in place run the risk of litigation. We’ve heard from people who say they’ll sue if they’re denied the ability to do business.”

The Liquor Control Board officials have worried that bans and moratoriums in some communities could create access problems that will make it difficult to channel marijuana users away from the black market and into the regulated, taxed one. It has asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion on whether cities and counties have the authority to bar the businesses from opening.

The Liquor Control Board has so far processed nearly 5,000 applications for licenses to grow, process or sell marijuana across the state, and many of those applications are in jurisdictions that have moratoriums in place.

Drew Matthews, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, said there seemed to be mixed motives for the moratoriums.

“There are a lot of cities that really do want to make this work and feel overwhelmed by the prospect of implementing it, while others are really just trying to play out the clock, so to speak, and keep passing moratoriums until the problem goes away and people stop applying in their jurisdiction,” he said.