Elections

Rural Pierce County voters say no to pot businesses

Sign-spinner Andy Borst works to attract customers last year to The Gallery, right, a retail marijuana business on Pacific Avenue South in Parkland. Unincorporated Pierce County voters said no to pot businesses Tuesday, setting the stage for the Pierce County Council to consider reinstating a ban on such businesses due to expire July 1.
Sign-spinner Andy Borst works to attract customers last year to The Gallery, right, a retail marijuana business on Pacific Avenue South in Parkland. Unincorporated Pierce County voters said no to pot businesses Tuesday, setting the stage for the Pierce County Council to consider reinstating a ban on such businesses due to expire July 1. Staff file, 2015

Voters in unincorporated Pierce County were saying no to pot businesses Tuesday, setting the stage for the Pierce County Council to consider reinstating a ban on such businesses that is due expire July 1.

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Council action to restore the ban could prompt a showdown with Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who has shown opposition to banning legal marijuana.

The results of Tuesday’s vote are non-binding. That means the County Council could let stand its decision to lift its “de facto” ban – which doesn’t explicitly outlaw marijuana businesses but requires them to comply with federal law that prohibits marijuana sales. Or the council could reverse itself and cancel the ban’s expiration.

County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald was hesitant to claim victory after initial returns Tuesday, but said if results continue to go in the same direction she will propose reinstating the ban.

The council narrowly approved lifting the ban at the end of 2015 after Republican Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, crossed party lines to vote with council Democrats. At the same time Richardson voted with fellow Republicans to hold the advisory vote.

McDonald is not worried this time around.

“I believe I will have a 4-0 vote to continue the ban, that’s my hope,” she said.

McCarthy wouldn’t say Tuesday what she would do if the council votes to restore the marijuana ban.

In 2013, she vetoed the council’s attempt to ban recreational marijuana following statewide approval of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana. The council overrode that veto.

McCarthy neither signed nor vetoed the council’s December decisions to lift the ban and call for an advisory vote, choosing instead to let them take effect without her signature. At the time, she sent the council a letter saying the majority’s action lacked “clarity, direction and contradicts the will of the voters.”

On Tuesday, she reiterated her criticism of the council for spending $425,000 on an election to send the issue back to voters. Unincorporated Pierce County voters had favored I-502’s passage and the legalization of marijuana businesses in 2012.

“The council needs to address this,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “I also believe in a representative form of government that requires officials who are elected to make tough decisions and to take action.”

If the council votes to reinstate the marijuana business ban and McCarthy vetoes that action, the seven-member council could again override her veto.

But to do so, it would need five votes. The three council Democrats are unlikely to go along with an override.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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