Lacey council, planning commission discuss recreational pot

The Lacey City Council and the Lacey Planning Commission on Thursday night once again addressed recreational marijuana, a conversation that started with the council, was referred to the planning commission and then resulted in a joint discussion.

Next, it’s up to the council to take action.

It started when members of Turning Point Church in northeast Lacey, a church that offers addiction recovery services, found that a recreational pot retailer had been proposed next door to the church.

They soon learned that when state Initiative 502 set the recreational pot business in motion, it did mandate distance requirements between marijuana businesses and organizations such as elementary and secondary schools, but not churches.

Unlike the law governing liquor stores, it didn’t require that the Liquor Control Board notify the church about the pot retailer proposal.

That led church member John Bowser to share his frustration with the council. The council took up his concerns in a work session and finally decided to refer the issue to the planning commission. They asked the planning commission to study whether additional rules were needed for pot retailers near churches and known future school sites.

The planning commission had a poorly attended public hearing and then voted 6-1 that no new rules were needed, citing legal concerns, the difficulty in defining a church, and that proposed schools often are put on hold.

No action was taken Thursday night, and it was hard to tell how the council might vote on the issue at a future meeting. Five members of the council attended the meeting, with Jeff Gadman and Virgil Clarkson absent.

Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt participated in the meeting via phone.

Council member Jason Hearn, who has taken the hardest line against marijuana in the past, mostly asked questions, including one of planning commission member Vasiliy Stupin, the lone dissenting vote after the planning commission public hearing.

Stupin reiterated his marijuana opinion Thursday night.

“I’m convinced it’s not in the best public interest to disregard future school sites and churches that have activities for kids,” he said.

Another planning commission member suggested the city take a wait-and-see attitude and see whether the courts or Legislature provide some guidance on marijuana.

But council member Lenny Greenstein cautioned that waiting might be the wrong thing to do.

“If in fact a (pot) facility opens within 1,000 feet of a future school site, it’s too late once it’s already done,” he said. “I think it is the city’s job to make sure we regulate land use within the city.”

Based on Thurston County’s population, it has been granted 11 pot retail licenses under I-502: six at-large sites in the county, two in Lacey, two in Olympia and one in Tumwater. Only two have opened so far: Green Lady on Pacific Avenue in Olympia, and 420 Carpenter on Carpenter Road between Pacific Avenue and Martin Way. That location is considered an at-large site.

Mayor Andy Ryder said he is less concerned about recreational marijuana, which he views as well-regulated, and more concerned about the lack of regulation for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Initiative 502 was passed by voters in November 2012. In Lacey, it won 52.49 percent of the vote, according to data shared by Planning Commission Manager Ryan Andrews.