Ketchikan City Council introduces ordinance to temporarily bans retail pot sales

Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Despite nearly an hour of strong public comment in opposition, the Ketchikan City Council voted Thursday to move forward with a temporary ban on retail marijuana within city limits.

The vote was split, though. Three members voted for the ban – Dick Coose, Janalee Gage and Bob Sivertsen – and three voted no – Judy Zenge, KJ Harris and Dave Kiffer.

Mayor Lew Williams III broke the tie in favor of moving forward with the ordinance, which will require a second vote before it can be implemented.

Council Member Julie Isom, who was absent on Thursday, voted on Dec. 3 in favor of a ban on retail marijuana, but then led the charge to reconsider that vote during a Dec. 14 meeting. Her vote at the next Council meeting could decide whether the temporary ban succeeds.

If approved in second reading, the ordinance would prohibit the operation of any commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing or retail operation within city limits until Sept. 30th. However, Mayor Williams said several times Thursday that the Council would make a decision in March.

During public comment, 10 people spoke about marijuana, and eight of them were in favor of allowing retail sales. Robert Hannah says the City Council members who oppose retail marijuana are basing their decisions on feelings, rather that facts, and do not respect the will of the voters.

“The last time I checked, in the United States, the majority did rule,” he said. “It’s not: ‘The majority’s opinion will be considered nicely by the governing body,’ and it’s definitely not: ‘The majority’s opinion will be weighed against the personal morals of the small council.’”

The 2014 initiative legalizing marijuana in the state was approved by a majority of voters statewide and locally. That initiative does allow local governments to ban retail operations.

A couple of speakers at Thursday’s meeting suggested that if the Council persists in banning commercial pot in the city, they would pursue a recall of those Council members. Another option for voters is to use the citizen initiative process to put the issue of retail marijuana on the local ballot.

During Council discussion, Council Member Bob Sivertsen noted that counties in Colorado also were able to opt out of local retail sales, and 70 percent chose to do so.

“Of course, the difference there is you can drive to a place to get marijuana and we’re somewhat different,” he said. “The other thing is that Colorado has medical marijuana, which I think our state fell down on in regards to regulations. I think there is a need to have some sort of medical marijuana system in place.”

Council Member KJ Harris, who has supported legal marijuana from the start, berated the Council for further delaying a decision.

“I could have my timing wrong, but I believe we’ve been working on this since about Feb. 25th of last year,” he said. “Pardon my French, but we ain’t done a damn thing. Now we’re going to back this off another 30-60 days, whatever that is, and not do a damn thing. And when the state comes up with laws, maybe we’ll do something, maybe we won’t. I’m pretty ashamed being on this Council the way this has come down.”

The argument for the ordinance is that it gives the Council more time to decide whether to allow commercial marijuana within city limits. The Council on Dec. 14 voted to delay such a decision until March, but the state will start accepting business license applications in late February. The city attorney was concerned that small window of time might leave the city open to something it doesn’t want.

The temporary pot ban will come back for a second vote during the Council’s Jan. 21 meeting.