By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
Monroe City Council Tuesday night took the first steps towards implementing a city ordinance designed to prohibit marijuana-related businesses from operating in the city of Monroe. The ordinance amends the Monroe Municipal Code to stipulate that, in order to obtain a business license in the city, all businesses must comply with both state and federal law.
Although Initiative 502 passed in Washington State, legalizing marijuana, the United States federal government continues to identify marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance and as such, it is impossible for a marijuana-related business to comply with both state and federal law. It is perceived that this conflict between the two laws establishes a condition in which the city can effectively prevent marijuana-related businesses from operating in Monroe.
The ordinance includes a subsection which declares businesses operating in violation of state and/or federal law to be a public nuisance, and includes an appeal mechanism for individuals who are denied the opportunity to operate a marijuana-related business.
Several Monroe residents took the opportunity to voice their opinions on the business license prohibition during the portion of the meeting designated for citizen comments.
Mitch Leisten, a consultant who has done work for both Microsoft and Boeing, spoke in opposition of the business-license ban. Leisten, who has lived in Monroe for 10 years, stated that he does not feel that a ban, decided by city council, is very consistent with democracy.
Leisten presented council with comments which were received on the Monroe Monitor’s website, taken from three separate articles in which marijuana-related businesses were discussed. All comments were favorable to Monroe supporting the marijuana-related industry. He acknowledged, however, that previous public testimony given in council chambers has largely been in opposition of these types of businesses.
“Just because we’re not going to go into the meetings to express what we already voted for does not mean that council members should be making decisions that directly go against what we already voted for,” said Leisten.
Dolly Leisten, who has spoken in favor of marijuana-related businesses on several occasions, addressed council. She drew a parallel between the city’s recent implementation and subsequent removal of the traffic camera program and council’s forthcoming decision involving marijuana-related businesses, stating that the “traffic camera fiasco” was an example of council making a decision for the public which was not received in a supportive manner.
Leisten stated that she didn’t feel it was appropriate for the seven members of Monroe’s City Council to ban something that the citizens of Monroe have already voted for. She stated that nine out of Monroe’s 12 voting precincts voted in the favorable majority on I502.
“I’m going to guarantee you some litigation,” said Leisten. “If you do this, who do you think will win? Do you think it will be Monroe? Or do you think it will be the state and the people who voted?”
“I’m going to guarantee you, in a state court, the state will win. You will be forced to hand out these licenses,” she continued.
Leisten suggested that the city could be vulnerable to several levels of litigation should they seek to implement a ban on marijuana-related businesses.
“I would call it discrimination,” said Leisten.
Leisten stated that, if it were her, she would not only sue the city for discrimination, but also for profits lost as a result of being denied a license to operate her business. She questioned whether or not the city could afford that litigation, and concluded by asking council to carefully consider their position.
“You need to lighten up Monroe… You need to go with it instead of trying to fight it,” said Leisten. “We voted for it; it’s legal. Learn from your past mistakes.”
Others who spoke in opposition of the business license ban cited the substance’s medicinal properties as a reason to allow the marijuana-related businesses to operate. Another common theme was summarized by one resident who stated that he felt it was “anti-democratic” for the council to ban something that citizens have voted on.
Stan Barrett, who owns and operates a winery called Woodinville Wine Cellars, spoke about the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
“I’ve kind of embraced the medicinal side of it,” said Barrett.
Barrett explained that he has observed a positive result, firsthand, after a family member afflicted with Parkinson’s disease used medicinal marijuana. He said it improved the family-member’s sleep patterns and helped alleviate tremors.
Around seven citizens spoke in opposition of the business-license prohibition, with one citizen speaking in favor of banning marijuana-related businesses from the city. Monroe resident Erin Angus-Snapka remained neutral.
“Whatever is least likely to get us sued is fabulous,” said Angus-Snapka.
Councilmember Kevin Hanford moved for a vote, acknowledging the perspective that was given during the time designated for citizen comments. He thanked everyone for their input, and said that he appreciated the discussion.
“There’s a fine balance that we have between representing our constituents and fulfilling our oaths to uphold state and federal law,” said Councilmember Hanford. “This has not been an easy issue by any means.”
Hanford then moved to accept the first reading of Ordinance No. 003/2014.
The motion passed six to one, with Councilmember Jim Kamp dissenting.
A public hearing will be held next Tuesday, March 11, at 7 p.m., to allow citizens additional opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns about the marijuana-related business license prohibition. After public testimony is heard, council may opt to either extend the public hearing, continue the matter for further consideration, or proceed with the second and final reading.
The ordinance can be reviewed here: http://wa-monroe.civicplus.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/1414?fileID=2368.