By Pat Jenkins
After being on for more than three years, a moratorium on retail marijuana businesses in Eatonville has been lifted.
The Town Council removed the ban June 26 rather than extend it for another six months, as had happened at six-month intervals since the order took effect at the start of 2014.
The moratorium prevented the town from accepting any applications for business licenses for recreational marijuana retailers.
No such businesses have been proposed in Eatonville since state-licensed retail marijuana sales became legal following the statewide approval by voters in 2014 of Initiative 502. But the council, citing uncertainty about the new law and concerns about the welfare of the town’s residents, chose to head off any pot ventures pending the outcome of legal tests of I-502 and the state’s process of setting regulations for licensed pot sales.
The council went against a recommendation by the town's Planning Commission for land-use zoning that would give legalized pot vendors a place to do business in Eatonville under tight restrictions.
But council members Bill Dunn, Bob Walters and Jennie Hannah voted last month to end the moratorium. Councilmen James Schrimpsher and Robert Thomas were the minority in favor of continuing the moratorium.
There are no known plans to try to resurrect the moratorium at a later date. There also is little likelihood of legalized marijuana operations in Eatonville. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board, which regulates the pot industry, isn’t accepting applications for marijuana retailers, growers or processors.
If an application is ever filed with the board for a retail marijuana license in Eatonville, the town would be given 20 days to state its approval or objection to the application.
A public hearing June 26 on whether to extend Eatonville’s moratorium preceded the council’s decision. No one from the general public commented.
Washington’s law that emerged from I-502 conflicts with federal law that still treats marijuana as a controlled substance.
Court rulings have favored municipalities such as Eatonville that want to opt out of the state law and deal with the issue of legalized pot sales on their own local terms. A Pierce County Superior Court udge ruled in 2014 that the City of Fife has the authority to ban all marijuana businesses within the city limits.
According to the Municipal Research and Services Council, which advises local governments and reviews policies statewide, the Pierce County court ruling doesn't mean marijuana can't be used by people who live in towns or cities that ban marijuana businesses. It just means they have to make their retail purchases of pot somewhere else.
Since the court ruling, one licensed pot retailer received permission to open a shop in Fife as a result of an out-of-court settlement of his lawsuit against the city. Another shop in Fife is exempt from the city’s ordinance because it’s operated by the Puyallup Tribe on tribal land.
Sales of marijuana products by licensed retailers in Washington last year totaled nearly $700 million, according to 502data.com, a marijuana industry website.
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