By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
This week the Monroe City Council formally adopted the ordinance meant to ban marijuana-related businesses.
The ordinance specifies that, in order to operate legally in Monroe, all businesses must be in compliance with both state and federal law. The ordinance further amends Monroe Municipal Code to declare that any business found to be operating in violation of local, state or federal law will be deemed a public nuisance.
The sale, possession and usage of marijuana remains a violation of federal law, despite the fact that voters in Washington state recently passed Initiative 502 legalizing the substance on a statewide level.
A public hearing was held on Tuesday, March 11, during which council heard public testimony on the proposed business license ban.
A total of five citizens spoke in favor of the business license ban, with one citizen opposed. One citizen, while not necessarily supporting recreational marijuana use, spoke against the ban out of concern for the effects such a ban would have on medicinal marijuana users.
Monroe resident Dolly Leisten has come before council on numerous occasions and voiced her opposition to banning marijuana-related businesses.
Leisten’s husband, Mitchell Leisten, is the executive officer of an LLC called MGL Consulting. MGL Consulting is one of seven applicants who have filed with the Washington State Liquor Control Board to open a retail marijuana establishment in the city of Monroe. The list of applicants, which was last updated on March 11, also reports 16 different processor applicants and 21 producers.
Liesten addressed council once again, voicing her opposition to the business license ban. Leisten has stated in her previous public testimony that the traffic-ticketing cameras were an example of the city council making a decision not based on the wants and desires of the Monroe community. She reiterated her thoughts on that matter.
“You decided to put them in; we decided we didn’t want them; there was litigation; the people won; it cost the city money,” said Leisten. “The point is, it’s a mistake we need to learn from.”
Last week, Leisten warned the city against risking further litigation. She did so again.
“There’s a new word that I learned, and it’s my word of the day,” said Leisten. It’s torturous interference. You can look this term up. It’s basically knowingly going to block a business, a profitable business, from opening. And that’s exactly what you guys are going about doing.”
“I don’t necessarily like church but I don’t want to ban them,” she continued.
Leisten questioned whether or not the city could afford such litigation.
“I hate to remind you, there will be litigation and if this litigation has to go to a state court, I can almost guarantee you that the state would win,” said Leisten.
In January, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued his formal opinion that Initiative 502, as drafted, does not prevent local municipalities from regulating or banning marijuana-related businesses in their jurisdictions. Attorney General opinions, while not necessarily binding in court, are typically given careful consideration and held in high regard.
Council discussion ensued after the public testimony portion of the public hearing was closed. Councilmember Jason Gamble stated that the decision was difficult, but he did not want to be responsible for allowing policy that violates federal law.
“There’s potential litigation no matter what way we go on this,” said Gamble. “For some reason, people like to sue us.”
Councilmembers Jim Kamp, Kevin Hanford, Jeff Rasmussen and Pasty Cudaback all stated that the conflict between state and federal law was an important factor when making their decision to implement a ban on marijuana-related businesses.
“My main reason in supporting this ordinance tonight really is the conflict with federal law,” said Cudaback.
The ordinance passed, on its second and final reading, six to zero, with Councilmember Kurt Goering absent.
The ordinance does include an appeal mechanism for individuals who are denied a business lice