Op-ed: Council Member Chris Hook weighs in on marijuana conversation

I really appreciated the packed house at Wednesday’s Kent City Council meeting. Thanks to many, many folks who came to speak in support of recreational weed in Kent. It was inspiring, especially to see many generations represented in the room. But I’d like to unpack the issue because, unfortunately, there was a lot of misinformation flying around that I feel needs addressed.

The city has no plans to ignore the wishes of Issue 2 voters and ban the sale of recreational weed. Period, full stop. This has not been presented to council, ever, and it wouldn’t get very far if it did. Personally, as a public health professional, I believe in the positive impacts on everything from chronic pain to anxiety and depression, to just helping you get through the day. It can help when everything else doesn’t.

What I’ve learned in my short time on Council is that the city is tasked to study all new “land uses” (which are like student housing, or gas stations, or dispensaries) and to suggest zoning rules that the public has a chance to weigh in on. In the case of cannabis, this is being done to ensure any sales, testing and/or cultivation of weed to be sold recreationally is done responsibly in the city limits. Again, cannabis is not unique in this case: This process is followed for every new land use and every business has to be compliant with zoning regulations.

When I voted for the temporary moratorium in January, I understand that all we were doing was giving the city staff time to carefully look at this brand new land use, and come up with zoning rules. Just like when medical marijuana was introduced in 2016, this process can (and should) be efficient, but is a vital part of onboarding new land uses into our code. Once the rules are done, the moratorium goes away. Again, period, full stop.

The challenge I foresee is that we can’t do that until the ever-slow moving state legislature approves its long-awaited regulations, which will govern ours, and issues a limited number of licenses, first to medical marijuana dispensaries under so-called “dual use” licenses through a lottery, and then gradually to rec-only dispensaries (10b licenses). This will likely happen by September, but could be a bit earlier, or later if the process drags on. To them, I say: Give us the rules, give our stores the licenses, let’s get on with it!!

In the meantime, the council has tasked the Law Department to look at responsibly lifting the moratorium so that as soon as the state makes its move, we can be efficient in establishing zoning regulations, allowing public comment on them, and allowing these businesses to open. There is no conspiracy, no vendetta: I would like our cannabis businesses to be first out of the gate when sales are allowed, and vow to work hard with my fellow members of Council to make that happen.

Chris Hook
Kent City Council member for Ward 4

+ posts