By LAURELLE WALSH
Town Planner Rocklynn Culp brought a simple question to the Winthrop Town Council meeting last Wednesday (July 17): How should the town go about issuing marijuana-related business licenses once the state Liquor Control Board begins processing applications in September?
Representing the Winthrop Planning Commission, Culp said the commissioners wanted the council to “give direction,” as they consider where such businesses might be located within town limits. The only guidance the state provides on the issue is that marijuana-related businesses shall not be located within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child-care centers, public parks, public transit centers or libraries.
Within the Town of Winthrop, that leaves a small portion of the downtown business district, some commercial properties at the south end of town along Highway 20, and the Horizon Flats industrial zone outside the 1,000-foot buffer zone, according to a “preliminary map” Culp shared with the council.
Beyond that, it is up to the town to determine whether marijuana-related businesses are allowed under the municipal code.
Culp pointed out that the “Table of allowed uses” in Chapter 17 of Winthrop’s municipal code does not explicitly include marijuana growers, processors or retailers. However, the code provides for “Other retail sales and services similar to those allowed in the district,” for new businesses not falling into a described category.
“Do we have the right to say, ‘No, you can’t’ to new businesses?” Culp asked the council. “Or do we take a do-nothing approach and treat it like any other license? It’s uncharted legal territory.”
She noted that the towns of Omak and Okanogan have decided not to permit any business in conflict with federal law. The new Washington state law that decriminalized the possession and consumption of marijuana is currently at odds with federal law that classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance.
Culp also noted that residents of the Town of Winthrop appear to take a lenient attitude toward marijuana, with 60 percent voting to pass Initiative 502 last November.
Winthrop council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon stated “I don’t see how we can flat out say no” to business license applications in town.
Council member Rick Northcott said he saw “no difference from a liquor store,” which would be allowed in the B-II, B-III and industrial zones. “If somebody comes forward with a license from the state, I don’t see how we can deny it,” Northcott added.
Currently unknown is what to do if somebody wants to put in a child-care center within the 1,000-foot buffer zone after the town has already licensed a marijuana business, Culp said.
Along those lines, Mayor Dave Acheson pointed out that the town still owns undeveloped park lands not included in the buffer zone map. “Will we run into trouble in the future if we want to build a park there?” Acheson asked.
Council member Mortee Banasky said “It’s fascinating to watch this happen,” but otherwise did not weigh-in on the issue. Council members Sue Langdalen and Tiffany Langdalen likewise withheld their opinions on the matter.
Planner Culp’s take-away was that the council’s “direction was to leave the zoning code as-is, and if we receive any business license applications, to apply the buffers and issue licenses accordingly,” she said in an email. In the mean time, she assured the mayor and council members that she would keep them informed of any developments.