Tobacco license moratorium in the works: Stillwater Council moves forward but lawyer for applicant has concerns

A tobacco licensing moratorium may be implemented by the city of Stillwater as it considers a second reading of the measure next week.
Currently the city has 16 active licenses and one pending. The one pending license request is being investigated as protocol dictates for all tobacco and liquor licenses in the city, according to Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway. The pending license request is being sought for the tobacco shop on Market Drive across the street from Target, with new owners listed. The former owners of the business, the Wazwaz family, had their license revoked earlier this year.
When asked by Councilmember Tom Weidner why the moratorium needed to go in now when there was one license pending, Gannaway had the following response:
“We’ve had a revocation of a tobacco license at this location. This entity has applied to purchase the same store and reapplied for a tobacco licenses and was denied once. They’ve resubmitted, so we are going to re-review it,” Gannaway said.
If passed, the moratorium will last through Aug. 1. City Clerk Diane Ward said she was interested in looking at implementing the moratorium because she wanted to see what the state Legislature decides to do regarding the selling of e-cigarettes and sampling indoors. The current ordinance does not address these issues, and Ward said the Legislature could likely cause a change at the city level. Other moratoriums and ordinance changes regarding this issue have been put in place in Woodbury and Duluth.
Ward added after the meeting that the individual permit that remains would be processed on its own merit and any new
licensing applications that come in after the second reading would not go through.
Councilmembers said they were a little confused by what the moratorium meant for current license holders.
“If you review this and all goes well, if someone applied, I don’t want to hold them up needlessly for a long time,” Councilmember Ted Kozlowski said.
“I just want to make sure that things are being treated fairly and the same,” Weidner said. “If the same permit is issued, there’s nothing on e-cigarettes, would it be treated differently than the current 16?”
“No, we would do them all the same,” Gannaway replied.
“So no one is getting grandfathered in here,” he said. “I might vote for the moratorium just because I don’t understand it. My biggest concern is that we’re going to be giving tobacco licenses back to owners that have already had it revoked, if it is the same establishment with different owners.”
“We’re looking into that right now,” Gannaway responded.
Another man looked as though he wanted to speak, and a reporter spoke with him after the meeting.
Public comment, according to Mayor Ken Harycki, wasn’t open because the issue was simply an ordinance change.
The man’s name was Murad Mohammad, a lawyer with MSJ Law (Mohammad, Schiks and Jaafar) in Woodbury. He had represented the Wazwaz family when its tobacco license was revoked earlier this year.
“We believe that less restrictive measures can be put in place over the alleged concern of providing e-cigarettes,” Mohammad said. “Our concern is that a legitimate business is not being allowed to open in Stillwater. … We’re not getting the full story behind the moratorium.”
Gannaway denied these allegations on March 24.
“No, the moratorium has absolutely nothing to do with that,” he said. “It is about the e-cigarettes and the Legislature’s regulations. A couple of other communities have already passed similar moratoriums, and the former holder of the license and the application under review is just a coincidence. The new license is going through the typical background check that applies to any licenses.”
The second reading of the interim ordinance will take place on April 3.
According to a memo created by Ward: “The interim ordinance establishes a licensing and planning moratorium on tobacco licensing and directing the studies of official controls related thereto be conducted. The moratorium will not affect the existing establishments that have licenses.”

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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