| GIG HARBOR, Wash.
GIG HARBOR, Wash. May 13 Tedd Wetherbee spent
months, and at least $30,000, setting up his marijuana shop in
the Puget Sound hamlet of Gig Harbor, and planned a grand
opening once his Washington state retail license was issued in
Then, with no word of warning, the local city council voted
unanimously last month to enact a 6-month emergency moratorium
on pot businesses, citing concerns they could violate a buffer
zone between marijuana sales and schools.
"I was just shocked. I've signed a 5-year lease here. I've
got $6,000 worth of tile arriving next week," said Wetherbee,
standing in his unfinished shop, The Gallery. "It's dead now."
As Washington state phases in a voter-sanctioned system to
allow and regulate recreational pot, nearly 50 municipalities
have enacted bans, moratoria and restrictive zoning ordinances,
largely citing fears of a federal crackdown, their children
getting high, and costly enforcement.
Cries of frustration and lost investment dollars have
reverberated across the state, with investors and pro-pot
activists warning the bans will reduce tax revenues and delay
the long-term goal of quashing the black market, a major selling
point of ending prohibition.
Opposition had been simmering and played out broadly along
geographic and ideological lines. Liberal Seattle, the
birthplace of grunge music and Starbucks coffee, is
welcoming pot shops while the more conservative eastern
agricultural hubs Yakima and Wenatchee pursued outright bans.
Some bans are more nuanced, such as those in the posh
wine-tasting Seattle suburb of Woodinville as well as in heavily
immigrant SeaTac. The Yakama Nation, a Native American tribe,
has banned pot on reservation land, citing concerns about its
effect on youth.
A smooth rollout is key to proponents of legal recreational
pot, who hope to woo Alaska voters to legalize it in November.
Similar legalization campaigns are in the early stages in
Arizona, California, Maine and Nevada, among others.
But the rollout already appears bumpier in Washington state
than it was in Colorado, where the nation's first commercial pot
stores opened with few hiccups under a similar scheme in
January, legalization advocates said.
The Washington bans mean that about a million residents,
largely in southern and eastern portions of the state, may have
to drive up to hundreds of miles if they want to buy grams of
Kush and trippy gummy chews, says the Seattle-based Center for
the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy.
WAIT AND SEE
The state used a lottery system to issue 29 producer and
processor licenses, with the first retail store permits expected
in July. The restrictions came after Washington's top lawyer
said last year that local governments could decide for
themselves whether to allow such shops.
Kevin Sabet, executive director of anti-legalization group
Project SAM, said local prohibitions reflect a growing distaste
for what legal pot looks like on the ground, even in places that
voted in favor of legalization.
"We are going to continue to see it grow," Sabet said.
Many communities are also deeply opposed to policing the
business only to see taxes generated by their shops funneled
into state - not local - coffers, especially with up to $2
billion in revenues expected over five years.
Furthermore, some localities prefer to delay opening pot
businesses to gauge the U.S. government's response to an
industry built on a drug that remains federally outlawed,
despite overtures by the Obama administration to grant leeway.
"We need more than just a wink and a nod," said Dan Roach,
chair of the Pierce County Council, whose ordinance essentially
bans pot until the U.S. Congress legalizes it.
Nearly 30 cities have enacted 6 to 12-month moratoriums,
including the Seattle suburb of Redmond, home of Microsoft
, though moratoria have been dropped in 11 cities, a
trend that could continue if legalization is viewed as
Investors and activists are pursuing workarounds, such as
legislation to block pot bans and inject tax revenues locally,
and schemes such as home delivery, which have yet to gain
traction. A Seattle law firm said it may sue one eastern city,
arguing that its ban violates the state constitution.
"It's frustrating because of the uncertainty," said Brendan
Kennedy, CEO of Seattle-based private equity firm Privateer
Arbormain, his firm's portfolio company, looked at two
cities, Kent and Chehalis, to build a $20 million "cannabis
business park" to lease to pot growing and processing
businesses, with the potential of adding 200 jobs over time.
But Kennedy scrapped the plans after Kent passed pot
business restrictions and a local sheriff told news media the
plan was unlikely to happen "at this address or any address in
the near future."
(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by
Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)