Meeting attendees weed through retail marijuana store issues

Redmond residents, business owners and other interested parties filled the Redmond City Council Chambers Wednesday evening to share their thoughts and concerns regarding marijuana retail stores at a public hearing during a planning commission meeting.

A standing-room-only crowd was on hand Wednesday night in the Redmond City Hall council chambers for a hearing on proposed regulations for retail marijuana stores in the City of Redmond.

Redmond residents, business owners and other interested parties filled the Redmond City Council Chambers Wednesday evening to share their thoughts and concerns regarding marijuana retail stores at a public hearing during a planning commission meeting.

As previously reported, the City of Redmond was initially allotted two marijuana retail businesses — which was recently increased to four — but there was nowhere they could be located per the city’s zoning for retail businesses.

A change in state legislation may now make it possible for retail businesses to open in Redmond as cities now have the option to reduce previous buffer zones between retail businesses and certain other uses down from 1,000 to 100 feet — or anything in between.

This change means Redmond may soon see its first marijuana retail store in town.

But before this could happen, city staff has been studying the issue to see what this would look and part of that has been gathering feedback from the community.

Jason Rogers, a senior planner in long-range planning for the city, said in addition to Wednesday’s public hearing, people were able to share their thoughts through an online survey and by emailing city staff. As of Wednesday afternoon, the online survey received about 1,300 responses and staff received more than 50 emails from residents, business owners and other members of the community.

Rogers said some of the main themes they saw from the online feedback was concern regarding the possible reduction in buffer zones — which would apply to other uses, including game arcades, libraries, recreation and community centers, daycare or childcare centers, transit centers and parks. The two exceptions to this are uses that are schools and playgrounds, meaning there still must be a 1,000-foot buffer between themselves and a marijuana retail business.

Rogers said feedback online also indicated that there are people in the community who are opposed to having retail marijuana businesses in Redmond altogether.

There were also people who supported the idea of having marijuana retail businesses in Redmond.

All of these sentiments were echoed in the standing-room-only meeting Wednesday evening as the planning commission took in about three hours of public comments.

A recurring concern of those who do not want to see retail businesses in Redmond at all was for public safety — specifically children’s safety. Speakers cited the possibility of youth becoming addicted to marijuana, the possible damage to their health and of the possibility of them moving on to harder and more harmful drugs. People also said they are worried that bringing in marijuana retail stores into Redmond will lead to an increase in crime.

“Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it socially responsible,” one woman commented.

A number of people who spoke on Wednesday also said they are concerned that if their children see the pot stores around town, they will become interested in marijuana and want to try it.

In response to this, a woman who supports retail businesses in town used an analogy of toys. She said most parents are not going to give their children every single toy they see and ask for after seeing it advertised on TV or other places.

A commenter who followed this woman and sits on the other side of the issue pointed out that if a child does not see a “toy” advertised, they are not going to ask for it because they will not know about it in the first place.

Among those who supported the idea of marijuana stores in town, a few noted that parents should be responsible for monitoring drug use, not stores — the latter of whom would not be able to sell to minors to begin with since the businesses are so heavily regulated.

One woman also noted that the school system is one of the biggest “pot stores” in a community. She said this is because alcohol is so heavily regulated, it makes it more difficult for minors to access. Before it was legalized, marijuana was not as regulated, so kids had easier access to it, she said.

Supporters also stated that they felt marijuana is misunderstood.

One man suggested people should better educate themselves on the topic — a comment that was not received well by the mostly opposed crowd as people began booing him, while a few supporters applauded, before planning commissioners could calm the crowd.

In attendance were also individuals who own marijuana retail businesses in other cities as well as those who were awarded businesses in Redmond but are not able to open them because of the zoning regulations.

“I’m not a criminal nor do I have a criminal background,” one cannabis business owner told the audience. “This is my job.”

He also noted that as a legitimate business, he checks for customers’ identifications — whereas a dealer on the black market only checks the money in a customer’s hands.

Jenny Carbon — who was awarded a retail business, which she has dubbed The Grass is Always Greener — said she understands people’s safety concerns for their children, noting she has a 16-year-old herself.

Although the hearing has passed, Rogers said people will still be able to comment online. The online survey at redmond.gov/marijuana will be open until 5 p.m. today. In addition, people can also provide written feedback by emailing planningcommission@redmond.gov.

The planning commission will revisit the topic at its study session on Feb. 10 and depending on how things go then, they can prepare a recommendation for City Council or choose to continue discussing the topic at another study session.

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