Bonney Lake joins Pierce cities lured by marijuana tax revenue

Lifting of pot ban could change small town

Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson talks about the potential revenue marijuana stores would bring, and how lifting the ban may change his small town.
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Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson talks about the potential revenue marijuana stores would bring, and how lifting the ban may change his small town.

Will the prospect of tax money prove the undoing of marijuana bans in some Pierce County communities?

Four years after state voters approved legal sales of recreational marijuana by passing Initiative 502, Bonney Lake is among the cities taking a second look at allowing cannabis sales.

At the root of the re-evaluation is tax revenue that could help loosen a city’s tight budget, plus the realization that the fears about mayhem and criminal activity would follow pot legalization have not come true.

The Bonney Lake City Council, in a 4-3 vote, recently asked the city’s planning commission to consider the implications of lifting the city’s ban. University Place is considering ending its ban on marijuana sales.

If the two cities lift their bans, they would join Tacoma and Buckley, now the only Pierce County cities that permit marijuana retailers.

Buckley has two weed stores, The Green Door and Mr. Bills. Since it opened in mid-2014, The Green Door has reported sales of $4.05 million in marijuana and has paid $1.47 million in excise taxes to the state. Mr. Bill’s has had total sales of $6.56 million and excise tax collections of $2.38 million since it opened more than two years ago.

The city of Buckley has used $100,000 it received as its share of excise taxes from both stores’ sales to bolster the city of 4,500’s police force with a 10th officer, Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson said.

The stores have not created any significant crime or enforcement problems for the city, she said.

“The only problem I can remember is one illegal marijuana dealer who decided that the best place to find new customers was the parking lot of the marijuana stores. He was offering them cannabis at a reduced price,” she said. Police quickly arrested the interloper.

“Not selling marijuana in your town doesn’t mean you won’t have anyone using it here,” she said. “They’ll just get it in Tacoma or elsewhere.”

Statewide, tax collections on marijuana sales have grown steeply since the opening of sales in 2014, particularly since July 1, when the state combined recreational and medicinal marijuana sales stores into a single state-licensed system. The state has collected more than $325 million in excise taxes on cannabis sales of more than $1.3 billion.

Last year, the Legislature agreed to give local governments that permit marijuana businesses a cut of revenue from the 37 percent marijuana excise tax in hopes of discouraging local bans. Tacoma — home to the state’s third highest grossing pot store, Clear Choice Cannabis — has received $942,492 as its share.

Cities with pot businesses also receive a share of $100 million in sales tax revenues collected statewide since legalization went into effect.

In Bonney Lake’s case, a single cannabis retailer could add as much as $100,000 to the city’s coffers annually. That amount could help finance park improvements, law enforcement expenses and other needs.

Bonney Lake City Administrator Don Morrison said the city’s budget could well use an infusion of money. The recession put a big dent in city revenues, he said.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board has granted a license to Forbidden Cannabis to open a retail operation at 22308 Highway 410 East in Bonney Lake, but the city’s rules have so far halted any plans to open that store.

Buckley cannabis dealers say they welcome the competition. At the Green Door, budtenders Polly Heideman and Taylor Moss said they expect that the growing market for their products will protect them from declining sales if a Bonney Lake dealer opens.

“The marijuana industry is huge,” Moss said. “I think they’re going to have a lot of customers, a lot of business because of the way Bonney Lake is growing.”

Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said he expects the planning commission will lay out several alternatives for the council to consider, from keeping the ban to ending the ban but imposing restrictions on retail operations.

“The planning commission’s job is to look at the planning issues involved, not the legal and political ones,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, city leaders need to consider more than money, he said.

“It comes down to whether money is all that you want to look at or how you want your community to be,” Johnson said. “I don’t think a pot store makes Bonney Lake a better place to live, work and play.”

John Gillie: 253-597-8663