Parents and residents from Redmond and Redmond Ridge gathered Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure their voices were heard as Redmond city and King County councils are looking at amending zoning codes regarding marijuana-related businesses.
On Tuesday morning, a group of Redmond residents and parents gathered at Redmond City Hall to protest marijuana retail stores coming into town.
The demonstration came as City Council held a public hearing at that evening’s meeting to consider allowing retail sales of recreational cannabis in business park zones where the retail site would be visible from and face the street.
“The city conducted robust, transparent discussions and heard public testimony on many occasions as well as witnessed the peaceful protest about retail marijuana zoning,” said Redmond Mayor John Marchione. “The council will now vote on the amendments at the June 7 council meeting. As with any controversial issue, some people will be satisfied, and others will not.”
As previously reported, 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.
A DRUG-FREE COMMUNITY
At the protest, Winston Lee, a father of three, said their goal is to keep the buffer zones to 1,000 feet. He said one of his children is in middle school and has told him that some of their classmates already have access to marijuana.
Opening pot shops in town will only give kids more channels to get to the marijuana, Lee said.
Grace Han, who has two children, is also concerned.
The Redmond resident who also works in town near Whole Foods — where the first retail shop has been slated to open — said having stores in the city will make it easy for kids to access and be exposed to drugs, especially teens.
She said if marijuana retail shops open in Redmond, she may relocate her family.
“Sammamish is still a drug-free area,” Han said.
For Han, the goal of the protest was to raise awareness within the community and to let other residents know what could happen.
A number of people spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing on the topic — both in support of opening retail stores in Redmond and in opposition.
One man who was opposed to having pot shops in town noted that he and his family moved to Redmond because it is a kind community. And while as an adult, he understands that having the stores in town would be kind for businesses, medical patients who need easier access to marijuana and people who want to try it for recreational use, the father of two young children said for kids, “seeing is believing; hearing is trusting.”
“They are not adults,” he said. “They are not mature.”
He said as adults, they owe it to their children and future generations to have the right balance to keep things accessible but with the right controls and guardrails.
MARIJUANA AND CRIME
Another concern that has been brought up in the retail marijuana discussions is crime.
At the King County town hall meeting on Wednesday at Evergreen Middle School near Redmond, King County Sheriff John Urquhart discussed his experience with the issue as a law enforcement officer.
He said as a “foot soldier” in the “war on drugs” he arrested many people, both those who bought marijuana and those who sold it.
“It didn’t work,” he said about how this approach did not get rid of the drug.
Instead, he said, it led to the incarceration of an entire generation.
With his experiences in mind, Urquhart said he voted to legalize marijuana in Washington in 2012 as they needed to try something different.
“We’ve got to get rid of the black market,” he said.
Urquhart said passing the initiative was the easy part. Coming up with policies to regulate recreational marijuana has been the hard part and the government has not done a good job.
But since pot has become legal, Urquhart said from a law enforcement perspective, cannabis retail stores have been no more prone to crime than any other type of retail business such as a liquor store, a 7-Eleven or a bank. The crime he has seen related to marijuana retail shops were not because they were pot shops but just because they were a retail business that dealt with cash.
“There’s no crime associated with these stores,” Urquhart said.
FINDING A VIABLE SOLUTION
Jenny Carbon — who was awarded the first retail business in Redmond, which she has dubbed The Grass is Always Greener — also spoke.
She said she appreciates the city’s sensible approach to the buffer changes and encourages the city to allow retail shops to open in business parks and manufacturing parks. She would also like to see 500-1,000 feet between stores and said a graduated business licensing process would be ideal. Carbon said this controlled response would be more conducive to a “wait-and-see” approach and allows for any adjustments as local cannabis sales are introduced into Redmond.
Shauna Mindt, another interested party in The Grass is Always Greener, also spoke.
She said she appreciates the city’s not wanting to hide cannabis stores and keeping them in view of the public, noting that many business parks are set back from the road and not visible from the street. Mindt added that business parks are usually owned by large corporations and unable to lease to a marijuana business due to current federal banking restrictions.
Mindt asked council to consider opening as much space as possible to allow the stores in Redmond.
“The goal is to allow retail cannabis in Redmond,” she said. “And to adjust the buffers and zoning in a way that works. These adjustments should be real and viable and not something that we bargain for because they look good on a map. Redmond owes it to its residents, what they have voted for in majority.”
A couple other people spoke in support of Carbon and Mindt’s store, noting the work the two women have done to help and support others in the cannabis industry and showing how the businesses could be beneficial to the community. One woman, whose business grows marijuana, said they give their soil to the City of Kirkland’s parks department, showing that there are ways to form partnerships and relationships.
On Redmond Ridge, the concern is marijuana processing plants possibly opening in the community.
At King County’s town hall meeting, many residents took advantage of the public comments portion of the evening to let council members know about their concerns.
Many who spoke asked council to maintain the 1,000-foot buffer zones from designated uses such as parks, trails and more.
“We are fighting for proper zoning,” said Redmond Ridge resident Julianne Bogaty.
Others asked council to just not allow marijuana-related businesses in unincorporated King County altogether.
This being said, King County Council member Claudia Balducci of District 6 — which includes unincorporated areas near Redmond — said they have placed a four-month moratorium on the issue so there will be no new marijuana uses in the county for at least that amount of time. In addition, she said there has been no proposal to reduce any of the 1,000-foot buffers but council appreciated people’s input for the future.
One of the main concerns people brought up was how a processing plant could affect the air quality and environment, noting how it did not make sense to have this type of business in their densely populated, mostly residential area. Commenters said businesses need to take measures to ensure air quality and those measures need to be enforced by the government.
People also expressed concerns regarding possible health risks caused by cannabis processing plants such as carbon dioxide emissions. Bogaty added that this poses a risk to not just the humans living on the Ridge but the animals, as well, as there is a lot of wildlife who call the area home.
Mariana Combariza, a 12-year-old Redmond Ridge resident, also shared her concerns. She said if a processing plant opened in the community, it would limit how long she and her friends could play outside and people and animals could get sick from the chemicals emitted from the plant.
She said she wants to live in a safe and healthy community.
“Children are the future of the world,” Combariza said, adding that adults need to consider the type of world they are leaving the younger generations.