Pasco wants slice of marijuana pie

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldDecember 14, 2013 

The city of Pasco's 2014 legislative priorities, which the council is expected to vote on Monday, include asking for some of the revenue from a statewide tax on recreational marijuana sales.

In other words, the city of Pasco wants a piece of the state's marijuana pie.

The state plans to charge an excise tax of up to 75 percent on marijuana, but none of that would go to cities or counties, which would be responsible for enforcing the law and dealing with crime it might create.

"The issue we're running into is the state decided to permit this kind of activity, which creates a need for more law enforcement because of more crime," said Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield.

There is precedent for similar action, since the state has shared tax revenue from liquor sales with cities, Mayor Matt Watkins said.

Initiative 502, approved by voters in 2012, sets aside excise taxes of 25 percent when the product is sold by growers to retailers, said state Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith.

Another 25 percent will be charged when processors sell to retailers, then 25 percent when retailers sell to customers, Smith said.

The state will also charge its regular 6.5 percent sales tax. Pasco has a 2.1 percent sales and use tax.

I-502 dictates that marijuana tax revenue be used for education, health care, research and substance abuse prevention. It purposely set no money aside for law enforcement, Smith said.

"What they said during the campaign -- and this is a campaign message, not my message -- was that less money for fighting the war on drugs means the money can be reabsorbed back at the local level," he said.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said redirecting the money to cities, or anyone else, would take a two-thirds vote of the legislature during the law's first two years. And almost any entity that takes state money is seeking a share of the money.

"There's lots of people already asking to take that revenue off our hands," said Schoesler, who represents the western part of Pasco and rural Franklin County. "It's a long line."

Among the priorities is fully funding education, which the Washington Supreme Court ruled the legislature must do in the January 2012 McCleary decision, Schoesler said.

"We haven't yet seen the revenue, anyway," he said.

Three proposed marijuana retailers have applied for a license with the Liquor Control Board to operate stores in Pasco, all along busy Road 68. Most recently, Buds for Life filed to open a store at 5109 W. Road 68. The Liquor Control Board has allotted up to four marijuana retailers in Pasco.

Two new proposed marijuana retail stores applied to open in Kennewick in the past week, according to the Liquor Control Board. Max Market has filed to sell marijuana at 308 S. Olympia St., while Need4Weed LLC has filed to open a business at 4018 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite C. That gives Kennewick a total of five applicants for marijuana retail licenses, one more than the four it has been allotted.

In Richland, a business called Fumare has filed to open a marijuana retail store at 2895 Pauling Ave., apartment 124, according to the Liquor Control Board. Richland now has two applicants for marijuana retail licenses, one fewer than the three it is allotted.

Pasco asked the legislature to deal with conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws and potential liability for local governments going into the 2013 legislative session, but the city crossed that out of this year's legislative priorities.

"It's obvious that the state's not going to do it," Crutchfield said. "We still feel that way, because it puts everybody in jeopardy ... either the federal law needs to change or the state law. But the more immediate question is now the question of taxes being assessed."

Pasco is not alone in its desire to get revenue from marijuana sales, Crutchfield said. The Association of Washington Cities has made it a priority for the 2014 legislative session.

Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley said the legislature has a short session in 2014, but the city council is still looking at making marijuana-related issues a priority. For now, the city is focusing on seeking more clarity between state and federal law, as well as the differences between recreational and medical marijuana sales.

"If there were anything introduced sharing some of the taxes, we would certainly be interested in that too," she said.

City of Richland spokeswoman Trish Herron said the city supports the cities association's proposal.

"It wasn't indicated to me whether we're actively doing anything," she said.

Other proposed legislative priorities for Pasco include a planned Lewis Street overpass in a state transportation package and a request to change public records laws to allow challenges to be resolved in mediation, rather than in court.

An arbitration system could be set up through the attorney general's office to deal with the requests, Crutchfield said.

"You don't tie up the court system, but this is a way to get an answer," he said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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