Federal Way reinstates moratorium on marijuana-related activities

Marijuana was legalized in Washington after a statewide vote in November 2012. - Courtesy of Sensible Washington
Marijuana was legalized in Washington after a statewide vote in November 2012.
— image credit: Courtesy of Sensible Washington

The Federal Way City Council unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on marijuana-related businesses and activities within city limits during its Nov. 5 meeting.

As the state continues to construct the framework for the new industry, Federal Way is falling back on the moratorium as a way to figure out how to proceed, according to assistant city attorney Peter Beckwith.

"The purpose is to maintain the status quo," Beckwith said. "At this point, the city is not taking a yes or no position, it's taking a 'time out, let's see where we're at and where we should go with this issue.' The one year provides for staff and council to have a thoughtful discussion as we move forward."

Beckwith said the moratorium is probably Federal Way's best bet at this time because of the continuing lack of clarity between the state law and federal law.

"Marijuana is legal under state law, but it's illegal under federal law, so there's this conflict. The Department of Justice has issued a couple of letters, and there's been a little bit of vagueness in those letters," Beckwith said. "On one hand, they say it's still a crime, that city workers can still be federally prosecuted. At the same time, they say that if the marijuana is thoroughly regulated and enforced, they don't have an interest in prosecuting."

Another factor playing into the moratorium is the fact that medical marijuana wasn't addressed by the new law that decriminalized the plant. Beckwith said he expects lawmakers will address that issue in Olympia when the next legislative session begins.

The City of Kent is also in a court battle, Beckwith said, over that city's move to outright ban collective medical marijuana gardens. The outcome of that case will have repercussions for cities throughout the state.

"We'd like to see how that plays out," he said.

Federal Way is just one of many cities taking the moratorium route, Beckwith said, citing the fact that Auburn and Olympia have done the same already.

"Obviously it's a very complicated issue, and one that we're trying to be as thoughtful about as possible," Mayor Skip Priest said. "It's important to note that while the moratorium is scheduled for one year, it could in fact be reduced if staff and the council were to come up with a thoughtful decision, given the information."

The city enacted a moratorium on marijuana-related activities in 2011, when a number of dispensaries began opening in the city at that time. Along with that, the laws regarding the aforementioned collective marijuana gardens were also changed that year, prompting a moratorium on those as well.

In November 2012, marijuana was legalized in Washington after a statewide vote. In September, the state Liquor Control Board approved a total of 334 marijuana retail outlets statewide, with 61 slated for King County. Federal Way was approved for three legal marijuana stores. Seattle was approved for 21 stores, with 11 "at large" stores approved for the county. A formula based on population determined the number of retail locations for each municipality.


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