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Vader holds off on marijuana ban as review process continues

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The Vader City Council has opted to not yet pass a permanent ban against marijuana businesses in an effort to ensure such a ban would stand up to potential legal scrutiny.

Though early reports from officials indicated the council would be voting on a ban during their regular meeting Thursday night, Mayor Ken Smith instead stated the city had been advised by attorney Carol Morris to follow additional steps to ensure, if a ban were passed, it would better survive a legal challenge.

Such steps include the submission of a draft ordinance to the State Department of Commerce to ensure it conforms with the Growth Management Act; the commissioning of a SEPA review to determine the ordinance's potential environmental impact; and the submission of a draft ordinance to the Vader Planning Commission, who will be holding a public hearing on Oct. 10 regarding the ban before forwarding a recommendation to the council.

Some officials acknowledged these steps are prolonging the process at a time when it appears clear the council intends to pass a permanent ban, including Council Member Kevin Flynn, who said allowing the issue to remain unresolved is unfair to developers, stating Vader should not be "dangling a carrot" in front of them by leaving open the possibility a ban would not pass.

But Flynn also acknowledged, with so many unresolved legal questions regarding the current state of the recreational marijuana industry in Washington, it would be better to ensure all conceivable steps were followed in the process of approving a ban to protect against potential lawsuits.

And the possibility of a suit appears likely to officials as one developer hoping to establish a retail location within the city's Urban Growth Area (Cynthia Ventura of Americanna Weed Co.) has filed suit against the City of Kennewick over a similar ban their council passed on Sept. 2, though Ventura has not responded to requests from this newspaper for comment on her intentions within the City of Vader.

Developer Brandon Milton, who is working with four other potential license holders to establish a series of production and processing businesses within Vader's industrial district, has said it is not his desire to challenge Vader with a lawsuit, but he expects similar suits filed by other individuals will set the necessary legal precedence to resolve any ambiguities in Vader's approach to the issue.

Vader has been pursuing a ban against marijuana since State Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a legal opinion on Jan. 16 stating, though Initiative 502 legalized recreational marijuana in 2013, it did not prevent municipalities from passing bans preventing such businesses from being established locally.

Prior to Ferguson's opinion, the Vader City Council had passed an ordinance the month before allowing marijuana businesses only in industrially-zoned areas, but the ordinance was vetoed by Smith on the grounds such a zoning amendment had not been in the city's best interests, telling the council Jan. 9 such facilities would pose "a number of serious social, economic and environmental repercussions," to the city and "diminish the quality of life that our residents currently enjoy."

According to the most recent public hearing on the issue, held Sept. 10, residents remain divided over the benefits of a permanent ban being passed, with some supporting a ban on the grounds it would protect local residents from the hazards posed by marijuana production and consumption, while others stated the council has no right to ban marijuana because they personally disapprove of it and should not ignore an opportunity to bring industry into town.

When reflecting on testimony from the hearing during their last meeting, Flynn and Council Member Justin Olson stated they felt those speaking in support of a ban raised legitimate concerns about public welfare, while Flynn added he felt those speaking against a ban were doing so out of self-interest or misinformation. The council then voted unanimously to uphold the temporary ban against marijuana businesses currently in place.

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