Small cities reconsider the need for weed
Principles are well and good but they don’t keep the lights on, and they don’t pay for recreation departments or police officers. So if you’re a small city feeling an economic pinch, it may be time to reexamine principles, specifically the ones that call for a ban on retail marijuana shops.
Bonney Lake and University Place, two cities on opposite ends of Pierce County, seem to be getting that message loud and clear.
Their original bans on retail marijuana made sense; both cites cited legitimate concerns about civic identity and the disconnect between state and federal law. But they’ve had a good look at the lucrative results of a statewide experiment, and evidence of large-scale mayhem or reefer madness is found wanting.
It’s easy to see why Bonney Lake and UP recently directed their planning commissions to consider their respective bans. Say what you will about weed and its ills, it’s an undeniable golden goose.
Since the majority of Washington residents voted yes to legalized possession and recreational use of marijuana in 2012, the state has collected $325 million in excise tax revenue. Tacoma and Buckley, the only two Pierce County cities that now allow marijuana retailers, are reaping the benefits.
As city governments struggle to make budget, profits from these neighboring marijuana retail stores are increasingly difficult to ignore. The green-eyed monster is making his pitch.
Last year’s Legislature didn’t make temptation any easier to ignore when it dangled a monetary incentive by allocating $6 million per fiscal year to be disbursed among local governments that allow cannabis stores in their borders.
It’s hard to say no to a slice of billion-dollar pie.
And speaking of edibles, sales of marijuana candies, cookies, sodas and waxes at retail pot shops upticked by staggering numbers in Washington state. According to a recent state revenue forecast, the state expects to collect nearly $1.3 billion in taxes by mid-2019.
Meanwhile, Bonney Lake needs more law enforcement. Opening just one pot store in the plateau city could provide it with $100,000. Bonney Lake already has a business, aptly named Forbidden Cannabis, with a state license in hand.
UP stared down a $1 million budget shortfall for 2017. UP City Attorney Steve Victor suggested to the City Council back in July that the pot ban be lifted. They were forced to eliminate their entire recreation department, a difficult decision that saved them $400,000. They also had to close the door on their senior center and eliminate all programming.
At this point, banning a cannabis store may be mostly a matter of vanity, as in: “What will the neighbors think?” And while municipal neighbors like Lakewood and Fircrest might disapprove because they continue to ban pot, others will see good judgment in taking advantage of an opportunity to fix a budget shortfall.
Bonney Lake and University Place can’t be faulted for moving cautiously, and in the end, maybe they won’t move at all. Referring an issue to a planning commission is just one halting step. In Fircrest, the planning commission unanimously recommended against allowing retail pot, and the City Council is standing pat — at least for now.
Tough times call for tough reflection. The principled stance that all of these cities have taken is looking less virtuous and more self-defeating all the time.
Prohibition doesn’t work, not with other legal pot stores less than three miles away. What works are smart zoning rules for pot stores, strict regulations of not allowing anyone under age 21 to enter retail premises and tough law enforcement that cracks down on unlicensed operators.
There’s no shame in rescinding local bans, as Pierce County prudently did this year. One or two marijuana stores, which heretofore is all the state has allocated for Bonney Lake and University Place, shouldn’t harm the essence of either community; certainly the added revenue will help them.