Clarkston Council Bans the Ban

By KERRI SANDAINE of the Lewiston Tribune

Applause broke out Thursday night when the Clarkston City Council repealed the city's ban on recreational marijuana stores.

A small-sized crowd, including owners of two downtown Clarkston pot shops, gathered at city hall for the long-awaited vote. Marijuana advocates have been asking officials to "ban the ban" for more than a year.

"I'm happy beyond words," said Matt Plemmons, owner of Greenfield Company, a Sixth Street marijuana business. "The voters of Clarkston have spoken loudly twice, and the city council has finally listened. Finally, Clarkston will be recognized as the forward-thinking city it deserves to be."

The only hiccup at the meeting was over the effective date of the ordinance. The council opted to go against City Attorney Todd Richardson's advice and amend the law they were voting on.

In a 4-3 vote, the council decided the retailers can open in five days - instead of 30. Richardson said the move opens the city up for a possible lawsuit because the ordinance is subject to the referendum process.

By shortening the time period, people who don't want marijuana sold in stores won't have the allotted time to gather signatures on a petition for a potential referendum, he said.

But several councilors, including Monika Beauchamp and Brian Kolstad, questioned Richardson's authority on the issue. Based on opinions from other municipal attorneys, they believe the ordinance is not subject to the referendum process.

Councilors Terry Beadles, Kelly Blackmon and George Nash voted against making any changes to the ordinance drafted by Richardson.

The ordinance that lifts the ban was approved with a 5-2 vote by Nash, Beauchamp, Kolstad, Skate Pierce and Belinda Campbell. Those same five voted in favor of changing the city's zoning code so recreational and medical marijuana can be sold in certain commercial areas. Beadles and Blackmon cast the no votes.

Blackmon said the process seemed rushed, including the special meeting held three days after the regular council session Monday. He wondered if the pot store supporters on the council are afraid of a referendum attempt.

Campbell said she was a little nervous about going against the attorney's advice. Before voting, she asked for assurance from fellow councilors who believe the city won't be sued. Clarkston can't afford another lawsuit over the pot issue, she said.

"I don't want Kelly (Jackson) and Matt (Plemmons) to open in five days and get closed again," Campbell said. "I want to do it right this time."

Kolstad and Beauchamp said they've done their homework and are confident it's OK to remove the 30-day clause.

Pierce said the former city council's ban was a poorly worded, ill-conceived ordinance that should be completely removed from the books.

The public was not allowed to comment at Thursday's special meeting.

At the onset, Mayor Monika Lawrence reminded the council to keep it civil and refrain from making any personal attacks.

Beauchamp said she felt as if Richardson made a personal attack against her at the last meeting because she doesn't have a law degree. The city attorney is using scare tactics to influence the council, she said.

Beadles objected, saying Beauchamp's comments about Richardson are "slanderous."

Richardson has said he is not trying to delay the process and he isn't being dishonest in his dealings with the council.

"I give legal advice, and it's their choice if they're going to follow it," Richardson said after the meeting.

Kelly Jackson, owner of marijuana store Canna4Life, said he's looking forward to opening the doors to the public as soon he gets the green light from the city.

"I'm willing to do whatever the new council says to do," Jackson said.

Kolstad, who has been trying to reverse the ban since it was enacted, said it's time to change the topic at council meetings.

"I look forward to putting this issue behind us so we can renew our focus on making Clarkston the best place to live, work and play," Kolstad said.