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Vader preparing to pass permanent marijuana ban

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The Vader City Council is preparing to consider a permanent ban against medical and recreational marijuana facilities after having held a public hearing last Wednesday discussing a temporary ban already in place.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Flynn, who led the meeting in the absence of Mayor Ken Smith, stated afterward it is the council's intent to vote on a permanent ban during their Sept. 25 meeting, which would prevent developers from establishing retail, production or processing facilities within the city.

Such a ban would directly impact plans by Seattle-based developer Brandon Milton to establish a marijuana production and processing plant within Vader's industrial district. Milton is still awaiting licensing approval from the state, which he filed as Atlas Brand LLC, before the facility could begin growing and processing marijuana, while four other applicants hoping to locate their marijuana businesses on Milton's property are awaiting approval as well (Jeff Carr, of Adan Farms, Anthony Bollibon and Jane Waite, of Growpro LLC, and Samir Breko, of Wagrown.)

During the hearing, Milton spoke of how he would encourage the council to not dwell on their objection to marijuana as a product, which he said is a perspective he did not wish to make light of, but rather to look at the benefits such a business could bring to the city.

"I think we have a lot more we can agree about than disagree about," he said, adding he feels the conflict over whether or not a city has the right to ban marijuana as a legalized business is not something he expects will be resolved between himself and Vader, but rather by other cities and developers who have filed suit over the issue. "I think this started at the state level and I think it's going to end at the state level."

One such lawsuit has recently been filed by developer Cynthia Ventura against the City of Kennewick in response to their council passing a similar ban on Sept. 2. Ventura's business, Americanna Weed Co., also owns property in Vader along SR 506, just west of the city limits but within the Urban Growth Area (UGA), where she intends to open a retail marijuana store and is awaiting licensing approval from the state. When seeking her reaction to Vader's intention to vote on a ban, Ventura did not return requests for comment prior to deadline.

While the Vader City Council appears resolute in their pursuit of a ban against marijuana businesses, residents speaking during the hearing were split on the issue, with many arguments revolving around whether or not officials have the right to impose their personal views on private property owners.

"Denying the owners of this facility the right to use their property productively is a violation of their constitutionally-protected rights," said resident Phil Shanteau in reference to Milton's development. "It sets a precedence that reduces all our personal rights to property and to operate a business."

Shanteau said he objected to the ban because it would prevent the growth of industry in the area, stating the proposed facility has the potential to produce a number of living-wage jobs as well as contribute to the growth of secondary businesses. He added the benefits of marijuana as a medicine have been specifically documented by the US Department of Health and Human Services in a patent they have held since 2003 (No. 6630507), which states the substance is capable of being used as an anti-oxidant and neuroprotectant.

"Do you personally own that land?" he went on to ask the council, adding an objection to marijuana businesses on moral grounds would be "a crime in this country and a violation of the constitutionally-protected rights."

Others spoke out in support of seeing Milton's development succeed, including resident Don Iddings, who said thousands of dollars in public funds have already been spent developing the industrial district without a return, and businesswoman Judy Costello, who did not speak for or against marijuana but told the council any new business would generate revenue.

"Every business pays taxes," she said. "It all filters into Vader."

But the potential benefits failed to outweigh the potential harms for other residents, some of whom spoke long enough to simply state they support the ban while others, such as resident Liana Horton, detailed how they expect the proposed businesses will impact their lives.

"You should be able to do whatever you want with your property, as long as it doesn't affect other people's rights," she said, stating her house is across the street from Milton's property as well as directly next Ventura's property.

Horton said she is concerned about the potential smell generated by growing and processing marijuana, as well as potential increases in crime due to the presence of such businesses. Horton said, while state mandates require thorough security measures for recreational marijuana facilities, she felt this would do nothing for the criminals who come looking for an easy marijuana score and, seeing gates and guards, turn to local property owners instead.

"They'll be thinking, 'We came all the way up here to try and break into this place. Let's go see what we can find in the local neighborhood,'" she said, stating she feels, under scaled-down services currently being provided by the Lewis County Sheriff's Office, Vader has "little-to-no" police protection.

Though some of Horton's concerns were directly addressed by Milton during the hearing, including whether or not he is associated with Ventura, which Milton said he is not, and what will be done to mitigate noxious odors, Horton said afterward she remains in support of the ban, stating she may likely move her family out of the area of the businesses are allowed to be established.

If Vader were to pass a ban on Sept. 25, it would be expected to go into effect by Oct. 6 and would apply to all properties zoned within the UGA, including the properties owned by Milton and Ventura, and a proposed production and processing facility in Enchanted Valley owned by Gene and Ralph Childers.

Though it is expected such a ban would be challenged in court, it was stated earlier this January in a release by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson that the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, which legalized recreational marijuana, did not take away a municipality's right to ban such businesses from being established locally.

The Sept. 25 meeting is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Those with questions may call (360) 295-3222. An audio recording of the hearing, as well as past council meetings, is also available at www.youtube.com/user/vaderwa.

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