WENATCHEE — An exemption to city law that would have allowed marijuana businesses in Wenatchee was voted down by city council members on Thursday.
The 4-3 vote means it would take a change in federal law or a court order to open the city to marijuana businesses.
The council decided not exempt the manufacturing, processing and sale of marijuana from requiring a business license. The city’s current rules require all businesses to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to obtain a business license to operate in the city.
Three of the four city council members who voted against the exemption said they did not feel comfortable allowing businesses to circumvent federal law.
“Federal law is superior over the state,” Councilman Bryan Campbell said.
Councilman Keith Huffaker said, “It’s still federal law. If we want it changed, we need to go to the federal government and get it changed.”
In addition to Campbell and Huffaker, Councilman Tony Veeder and Councilwoman Linda Herald voted against the exemption to allow marijuana-related businesses.
Councilwoman Karen Rutherford and Councilmen Mark Kulaas and Jim Bailey voted in favor of the license exemption.
Mayor Frank Kuntz said that the vote essentially ends the city’s role in allowing marijuana businesses. Any future activity would most likely be initiated by legal, state or federal actions, he said.
The city’s planning department had been looking into possible zone changes to allow pot-related businesses. But that will not proceed.
“It’s illegal and it won’t be allowed in the city,” said Steve King, community and economic development director. “This (vote) ends it.”
Cities and counties across the state have taken a variety of paths in regards to the state initiative that legalized marijuana. Some have chosen to impose moratoriums, postponing decisions.
Others have chosen to allow them but change land-use rules to restrict where they can be located.
Wenatchee leaders, on the recommendation of their attorney and staff, chose to consider the exemption to its business license requirements.
Eight people offered public testimony on Thursday, a slight majority of them in favor of allowing the businesses.
East Wenatchee businessman Mark McCants, who wants to open a retail marijuana store in Wenatchee, said he found a building in Wenatchee to lease for his marijuana business, which he plans to call The Happy Crop Shop. He is also interested in opening stores in East Wenatchee, which has a six-month moratorium on such businesses, and Moses Lake.
Others testified that marijuana is not an addictive drug and businesses that sell it should be allowed.
But Jim Zumini, executive director of Hospitality House Ministries, which operates four homeless shelters in the valley, said pot-related businesses should not be allowed.
He said that he sees the harmful effects of addiction all the time at his shelters.
“It damages lives,” he said. “I just don’t see how you can move forward on this. This is just absurd.”
His comments drew applause from the audience.
Linda Schooley of East Wenatchee said the City Council should protect the community “from potential businesses that violate federal law and threaten the safety, health and well-being of our children, youth and citizens in general.”
After hearing testimony, many of the council members explained their own positions on the issue.
Kulaas said that the state initiative legalizing marijuana was approved by more than 52 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the election. He said that was more important than how he personally felt about whether marijuana should be legalized.
But Campbell said that the number of Wenatchee voters who weighed in on the marijuana issue only represent 21 percent of all residents of the city.
“It is the will of the voters who voted, but it’s not necessarily the will of the people,” he said.
McCant said he doesn’t want to pursue legal action against the city. He hopes his attorney can persuade the city to reconsider the matter. Meanwhile, he’ll begin looking for a location outside the city in Chelan County.
County commissioners have not yet voted on whether and how they will allow such businesses.