Civic Agenda: Bellingham actions balance new marijuana laws, public safety

While popular among potential users, the legalization of marijuana with the passage of I-502 last fall left Washington state and local governments with legal gray areas that still are being sorted out. These gray areas are coupled with ambiguities left over from the 1998 provisions for medical marijuana and the Governor's 2011 veto of portions of a bill that would have led to a system for regulating and licensing dispensaries. This has cities and counties statewide grappling with how best to allow marijuana-related activities without adversely affecting people who live and work nearby.

For example, marijuana operations can produce strong smells and noise. We've received numerous complaints about marijuana operations, such as a production and distribution facility located on the first floor of a mixed-use building, where residents living on the second and third floors can smell strong marijuana odors emanating from below. Should this be allowed, or should these operations be restricted to certain areas, such as industrial or commercial zones? We've received complaints about traffic, noise and increases in criminal behaviors around facilities that claim to be collective gardens. As our communities anticipate new businesses setting up to grow, process and sell marijuana, how and where should they be allowed to operate?