By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
For now, the Town of Eatonville will go without land-use regulations that anybody wanting to get into the legalized marijuana industry would have to abide by.
The Town Council decided last week not to put such rules into place. Council members also started down a path toward a possible advisory vote for Eatonville residents on whether marijuana businesses should be allowed in their town at all.
Interim regulations governing where and how marijuana processing and retail sales could operate were proposed in November by the town administration. They were identical to interim rules that were enacted by the council in 2013 in advance of a statewide ballot measure on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. After voters gave that their approval in 2014, Eatonville's council, citing uncertainty about the ramifications of legalization and the public's welfare, put a moratorium on pot businesses, even though none were being proposed within the town.
The council lifted the moratorium last June. That resurrected the interim land-use regulations, which Mayor Mike Schaub said would cover the possibility of an entrepreneur applying for a permit to run a marijuana enterprise.
The council rejected the regulations on a vote of 3-2 Dec. 11.
Councilman James Schrimpsher, who was joined by Jennie Hannah and Robert Thomas in the majority against the regulations, was particularly vocal in opposition to marijuana operations. He pointed to social concerns, including what he said is an increase in cases of people driving under the influence of drugs since pot became legal.
He was joined by at least two citizens who offered similar views during a public hearing on the interim regulations during last week's council meeting. Another citizen spoke in support of marijuana businesses.
After its decision on the land-use regulations, the council expressed interest in placing an advisory ballot measure before voters on whether the  town should go along with state law allowing marijuana businesses. The council also voted to look into possibly banning them outright.
Advisory votes are non-binding, meaning they serve mostly as a public opinion poll on a particular issue. The Pierce County Council used one in 2016 during its debate on whether to allow licensed marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county. They eventually were allowed.
Without its own local regulations or a ban, Eatonville would give the state Liquor and Cannabis Board the authority to issue retail marijuana licenses under the town's current zoning rules.
It appears there is little interest in or likelihood of legalized marijuana operations starting in Eatonville. Abby Gribi, the town administrator, said last week there have been no direct direct inquiries from any prospective pot merchants. In addition, the state board, which regulates the pot industry, isn’t accepting applications for marijuana retailers, growers or processors.
If an application is ever filed with the board for a retail marijuana license in Eatonville, the town would be given 20 days to state its approval or objection to the application.
Eatonville's moratorium on pot businesses was in effect for three years. During that time, the council renewed it every six months. That ended in June.
The moratorium prevented the town from accepting any applications for business licenses for recreational marijuana retailers.
Washington’s marijuana law that emerged from voter approval of Initiative 502 in 2014 conflicts with federal law that still treats marijuana as a controlled substance. Court rulings have favored municipalities that want to opt out of the state law and deal with the issue of legalized pot sales on their own local terms.
A Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled in 2014 that the City of Fife can ban all marijuana businesses within the city limits. Since then, one licensed pot retailer opened a shop in Fife as a result of an out-of-court settlement of his lawsuit against the city. Another shop in Fife is exempt from the city’s ordinance because it’s operated by the Puyallup Tribe on tribal land.
Sales of marijuana products by licensed retailers in Washington last year totaled nearly $700 million, according to 502data.com, a marijuana industry website.