Washougal extends pot moratorium

City looking into options, including possible ban; prospective retailer in limbo

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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The Washougal City Council has extended a marijuana moratorium for another three months to give the city time to develop regulations, including a possible ban.

The city council extended the moratorium as an ordinance, following a public hearing in which more than one dozen people spoke for and against the extension, said Mitch Kneipp, the city’s community development director. It extends a six-month moratorium, which was set to expire June 2, that prohibits the retail sale, processing and growing of recreational marijuana within Washougal’s city limits. Those uses would otherwise be allowed under state Initiative 502, approved by state voters in 2012.

But the council’s Tuesday decision seemed senseless to potential pot retailer Brandon Brock, whose application for a Washougal store at 245 Sixth St. was the first pick in the state marijuana retail lottery held last month. Prohibiting pot selling, growing and processing in Washougal won’t stop people from buying it elsewhere and bringing it into the city, said Brock, chief executive officer of a family-owned string of head shops called Mary Jane’s House of Glass.

“Even if you ban it in Washougal, they can still drive out of town, pick it up and drive back into town,” he said.

Brock said he could be ready any time to open his retail pot store, but Washougal’s vote to extend its moratorium adds a twist to the problem of obtaining product to stock the new store. He expects shortages of retail cannabis and foresees suppliers quickly selling out to the retailers in moratorium-free communities or about half of the cities across the state.

“They (the suppliers) will definitely focus on towns that can sell it,” Brock said.

Even the fastest-growing plants aren’t expected to meet consumer demand once the first stores start to open this summer, experts say. For example, Clark County’s first licensed grower, Brian Stroh of CannaMan Farms, told The Columbian this month he is still several weeks away from harvesting the first batch of pot plants.

Meanwhile, state regulators at the Washington state Liquor Control Board are moving forward to license more growers and processors as it also works on the process of approving licenses for retail locations. Officials from the state board have said they expect the first stores to be up and running by the first week of June, selling products produced within the state.

Brock doesn’t think the state’s time line is realistic. “In all reality, I would expect the first product closer to 60 or 90 days from now,” he said.

Brock cannot legally sell marijuana separately in his nine existing head shop locations, and he says he would not want to do so.

“I don’t want to cross my current industry with one that’s under federal prohibition,” Brock said.

Mary Jane’s chain includes one Washougal site at 1825 E St. The shops carry gifts, tee-shirts, candles and incense, along with marijuana-smoking paraphernalia and glass pipes, some of which are manufactured in leased space at the Port of Camas-Washougal.

Possibilities explored

The voter-approved I-502 gives individuals 21 and older the right to possess and use marijuana-related paraphernalia and any combination of one ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form or 72 ounces of marijuana infused product in liquid form.

In extending Washougal’s moratorium, the city council directed staff to explore a wide array of possibilities for the city to move forward with its own regulations for the state’s newest industry, said Kneipp. It could include everything from detailed codes to more loosely managed guidelines.

“As staff, we’ll present all those options to the council,” Kneipp said. “We’ll say, ‘Here is a possible regulation and here’s possible language,’ and we’ll ask them the question, how do they want to move forward.”

The ordinance passed by the city council also provided an option to hold an advisory vote on whether the city should move forward with a total or partial ban on pot sales, growing and processing, based on what they’ve heard so far.

“Do we regulate or do nothing, and treat them as regular retail and industrial businesses,” Kneipp said.

Washougal isn’t the only Clark County jurisdiction struggling to implement and regulate the new law legalizing marijuana. Clark County commissioners on Tuesday took decisive action by approving an all-out ban on the processing, production and sale of marijuana in unincorporated Clark County. Its county seat, Vancouver, does not have a moratorium in place, nor does the City of Battle Ground.

Moratoriums in Camas, La Center and Ridgefield affect the establishment of sales, processing and production facilities.