The Columbian / Associated Press

Vancouver City Council holding line on retail pot shops

Vancouver City Hall (Lou Brancaccio/The Columbian)

The Vancouver City Council on Monday didn’t embrace the city Planning Commission’s recommendation that the city further expand its number of retail marijuana shops from nine to 12. Neither did councilors like the commission’s recommendation that pot shops be allowed to advertise off-premises rather than be limited to signs on their property.

Of the five councilors present at Monday’s workshop, only Alishia Topper seemed willing to immediately increase the number of pot shops to 12, saying it’s a legal business that should be driven by the market.

“I personally don’t think three stores are going to have a detrimental impact on our city,” she said. “I don’t think anything crazy will arise from opening three stores.”

Councilor Ty Stober said he supports raising pot shop numbers, but he’s concerned that the city isn’t doing enough to regulate problems with the existing stores. He’s seen people emerge from a pot shop, light up in their cars and drive away, he said. He also cited problems with parking congestion and customers’ cars blocking residents’ driveways.

“We’ve got to get caught up here,” Stober said.

The Planning Commission made the recommendations in response to recent changes in state law. The council will hold a public hearing June 20 and then vote on the proposed alterations to Vancouver’s marijuana standards.

In February, the city council approved increasing the number of pot shops in city limits from six to nine, which the planning commission recommended. The city council could authorize as many as 12 stores, which is the new cap the state Liquor and Cannabis Board set Jan. 6 while issuing new limits on the number of stores each jurisdiction will be allowed.

On Dec. 16, state Liquor and Cannabis Board staff recommended boosting the number of retail pot shops statewide from 334 stores to 556 stores, based on an analysis of the marijuana marketplace by research consultant BOTEC Analysis Corp. The move is meant to accommodate the state’s alignment of the medical marijuana market with the existing recreational market, with the expectation that medical pot users will be turning to retail pot shops for their marijuana supply.

The Planning Commission voted April 26 to recommend the change following testimony at a public hearing encouraging the additional stores. Commissioners said they wanted to be fully consistent with the state Liquor and Cannabis Board standards as well as increase competition and relieve congestion at existing pot shops. They wanted to see the shops spread across a broad geographical area in the city, they said.

If the city council allows three more retail pot stores, city staff said the following shops would likely be authorized: Yuki’s at 1717 Andreson Road; The Herbery at 330 Chkalov Dr., Suites C and D; and CM&N Enterprises at 1821 S.E. 192nd Ave.

Councilor Jack Burkman emphasized the importance of moving slowly and seeing what happens when new laws go into effect July 1.

“If we go to the 12 (stores), there’s no way we can say, ‘Wow, we made a mistake. We want three of those licenses back,’ ” he said. “I would rather see us go step by step.”

The Planning Commission also advocated for eliminating a city ordinance prohibiting off-premises signs for marijuana facilities. Billboards and other signs would be allowed, but state law would regulate their placement and content. Commissioners wanted to ensure the city is consistent with recent case law regarding free speech, commercial speech and signs, according to commission meeting minutes.

Assistant City Attorney Brent Boger said a 9th Circuit court case applied stricter scrutiny to sign regulations, particularly content. The city would have to show a compelling government interest in not allowing signs anywhere except the marijuana facility’s property, he said.

Councilors, however, didn’t seem concerned about court precedent, saying the prior legal case had to do with alcohol, which, unlike marijuana, isn’t illegal under federal law.

The Planning Commission also recommends eliminating the city ordinance for medical marijuana gardens, which won’t be authorized as of July 1. A provision would be added that says medically authorized users would have the right to grow or designate a grower, but under the new state standard, the pot could not be smelled or seen.

Vancouver will receive $790,500 in retail pot excise taxes for the state’s 2016 fiscal year.