Lawmakers consider carrot and stick for cities opting out of pot

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2014 

Marijuana is for sale at a dispensary in Nederland, Colo., the other state besides Washington that has legalized recreational use of pot.


Two approaches were on display Thursday among lawmakers wanting to persuade reluctant cities and counties to get on board with legal marijuana.

There was the carrot, and the stick.

The stick was offered by Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, who wants to ban cities and counties from banning state-licensed pot businesses. His proposal would let the state Liquor Control Board withhold liquor taxes from communities that don't comply.

The carrot came from Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee. His proposal would let local governments that allow state-licensed marijuana stores share in the tax revenues from the stores.

2012's Initiative 502 set up a system of state-regulated marijuana sales, but Attorney General Bob Ferguson says cities and counties can opt out. Some, like Pierce County and Lakewood, are moving to do just that.

Hearings today in the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee examined proposals by Sawyer, Condotta and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, for encouraging compliance. Wylie's bill would simply prohibit local bans.

Committee chairman Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, urged city and county officials to commit to allowing the businesses if lawmakers gave them a cut of the revenue as an incentive. No one was ready to promise that would happen.

But a share of pot revenue is certainly at the top of local governments' wish list, as mayors, city council members and other city officials made clear while lobbying in Olympia Wednesday and Thursday.

I-502 gave all the money to the state. Local governments said it meant costs for law enforcement, permitting, zoning and more.

Hurst, though, questioned whether criminal-justice costs would actually drop in areas where a regulated system replaces the black market.

Many officials also asked the state not to prevent local bans. Some said the law should go into effect first.

Kennewick City Councilman Don Britain said the state would be overreaching by not allowing an option to opt out. Voters in his city rejected I-502, he said.

"In Kennewick our citizens have strongly said they do not want these types of businesses," he said. "Kennewick should have the final say and other local jurisdictions, if they should be allowed or not."

Some marijuana businesses and advocates prefer the carrot approach. Chris Kealy, who is seeking to grow and process marijuana on the Tacoma Tideflats, has found less cooperation in Kent. But "I think the resistance I feel there has to do with resources," Kealy said.

But others favored the stick, including Brandon Christy, who is trying to open a business in Clark County but said commissioners there are poised to pass a ban modeled on Pierce County's.

"They have no taste for carrots," Christy said.

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