By Kevin and Crystal Oliver
The stores have begun opening, product is flying off the shelves and many of you are now approaching the final stages of being licensed with the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
You’re excited and eager to start production, processing and packaging of your products to supply to the stores that have hundreds waiting in line to purchase legal marijuana.
Unfortunately, the opening of stores has gained the attention of individuals who are scared of or against marijuana legalization too and they’ve begun making their voices heard at county commissioner hearings and city council meetings. If you think this is no big deal because you already spoke to the city or the county and they said your location was zoned appropriately, think again.
In the last two weeks a number of counties and cities have begun considering even more restrictive zoning of recreational marijuana producers, processors and retailers.
The city of Pasco will consider instituting a ban on marijuana businesses prior to the end of its six-month moratorium that was set to expire in September. Spokane Valley is now considering requiring retailers to be 1,000 feet from any city owned or leased property.
Auburn is now considering a ban and/or excessively restrictive zoning. Mason and Kittitas counties are now considering placing more restrictions on where a legal marijuana business can operate. Many I-502 business hopefuls who haven’t been keeping up to speed on local politics are at risk of having the rug pulled out from underneath them.
Knowing that this risk exists regardless of current zoning in your city or county, what can you do to protect your business and investment?
1. Keep up to date on local politics, specifically the city council and county commissioner meetings and hearings.
City council and county commissioner meetings, hearings and workshops are where these new zoning ordinances are being discussed and decided upon.
Most counties and cities in Washington publish the agendas, as well as the minutes from these meetings, online.
Make it a habit to check these on a bi-weekly to weekly basis and keep your eye out for any marijuana-related items and comments, or, better yet, attend the hearings and meetings to make sure you are there to represent your business interest.
2. Be active, engaged, and organize others if marijuana businesses are added as an agenda item.
We recommend individuals to do the following when they know that a hearing, workshop or meeting will be held to discuss marijuana zoning:
• Email, call and meet with your local officials. Offering to meet over lunch — your treat — is an effective way to get on a booked local official’s packed calendar. Let your commissioner or council person know how restrictive zoning will impact you, your family and your business. Ask for what you want and need to continue your business.
Address any of their concerns, answer their questions and maintain a professional and calm demeanor.
• If the hearing, meeting or workshop won’t be held for a couple of weeks, we recommend reserving space at a local library or community center to hold a strategy meeting with other impacted producers, processors and retailers beforehand. Washington NORML will provide email and Facebook advertisement of your meeting, as well as the upcoming hearing if you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “502 Zoning Issue in ______(city/county)” in the subject line.
• Show up to the hearing, meeting or workshop and provide comment and submit written comment as well. Remember to keep your comments brief, unique and respectful, and to bring written copies.
Through effective organization and education efforts, several counties and cities, including Spokane County, Whatcom County and the city of Bellingham, have been able to get councilmembers and commissioners to modify restrictive zoning and put reasonable zoning in place.
We understand that starting up a 502-compliant business is a time-consuming and labor-intensive venture, but it’s critical that we as a community stick together and continue to be politically active to ensure our business interests are protected.
Kevin Oliver is the executive director of the Washington affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, while Crystal is the executive secretary.