Pot business rolls on in Lacey

A community discussion about retail marijuana stores that began in June came to a conclusion Thursday night after the Lacey City Council voted not to create any additional distance requirements for proposed pot retailers near churches and future school sites.

The council voted 5 to 1; councilman Lenny Greenstein was the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Jason Hearn, who once stated that he was against any form of legal pot in Lacey, was absent.

Prior to the final vote, Councilman Greenstein made a motion to modify a Lacey Planning Commission recommendation — the planning commission recommended no additional distance requirements for proposed pot retailers — to include future school sites, but the council voted against him.

Mayor Andy Ryder wondered about possible litigation, while Councilman Jeff Gadman said that “regulations should not be any more restrictive than they are for alcohol.”

The pot discussion began three months ago when John Bowser, a member of Turning Point Church in northeast Lacey, raised concerns about a pot retailer that the church learned was proposed next door.

Among his concerns: the church offers addiction recovery services through a program it calls Celebrate Recovery and also wants to offer daycare.

He also was frustrated that Initiative 502, which was approved by voters and set the recreational pot business in motion, failed to include churches among the types of organizations that a pot business can’t be near.

Bowser’s concerns were addressed by the council at a work session. The council ultimately voted to send the issue to the planning commission so that they could study whether additional distance requirements were needed for churches and, addressing other community concerns, future school sites.

The planning commission voted not to make any changes — one of their arguments was that proposed school sites often change — and the council supported that decision Thursday night.

The planning commission and council also had a joint discussion about marijuana prior to Thursday’s meeting.

“I think the root of the problem is that the state law (I-502) is not a perfect one,” Councilman Michael Steadman said, adding that it “obviously needs to be examined at a higher level.”

Councilman Greenstein highlighted one of its problems.

Under existing liquor laws, he said, a church would be notified by the state Liquor Control Board and have a chance to comment if a liquor store was proposed nearby. But because churches were not included in I-502, that notification requirement for a proposed pot business does not exist.

Under I-502, Lacey has been granted a maximum of two pot retailers, but none have opened so far. A pot retailer called 420 Carpenter is near Lacey, but technically it is considered an at-large store in the county. No pot business — retailer, processor or producer — can open within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school.