Pasco votes to draft measure to ban pot sales

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 7, 2014 

The Pasco City Council voted 6-1 Monday to draft an ordinance banning recreational and medicinal marijuana sales in the city, despite objections from a man looking to set up a marijuana store downtown.

Mayor Matt Watkins cited the discrepancy between state law, which allows marijuana sales, and federal law, which bans them. There is also concern that the city will see little of the tax revenue that the state collects.

"There's not much return on investment with the cost to administer or police the sale in the city," he said.

Councilmen Bob Hoffmann and Al Yenney suggested that the city ban sales for now, but go ahead and plan to allow zoning for marijuana stores in the future. But Leland Kerr, the city's attorney, said the city can't zone for businesses and then not allow them to open.

"Once we create a permitted use in a zone, then we have an obligation to license if they meet the criteria," he said.

David Morgan, who wants to open Lucky Leaf Co. at 404 W. Lewis Street, said it is important to get marijuana stores open soon, before competition can get a foothold in other locations. The first 24 retail stores in the state are scheduled to start opening today, including one in Prosser.

"I think it's pretty crucial for that type of business, in order for it to be successful, to get in at the beginning, when there's a lot of hype," Morgan said. "It could entice other businesses like restaurants and eateries to the downtown area. We're hoping to take that part of town and bring it back to life."

Allowing legal marijuana sales would cut down the black market downtown, said Carl Holder, a Pasco energy consultant. That might force some of the vagrants there to leave.

Police Chief Bob Metzger later disagreed with that idea.

"The vagrancy problem downtown is much more complicated than a marijuana store or any other store is going to help," he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik was the only council member to vote against moving forward with an ordinance banning marijuana sales. She said the majority of Washington residents supported passing Initiative 502 in 2012.

"The state voted yes," she said. "I believe in the democratic process. It is our obligation to make that work."

But Yenney pointed out that the majority of Franklin County voters opposed I-502, and that Attorney General Bob Ferguson ruled that cities have the right to ban marijuana businesses. Staff will prepare an ordinance in time for discussion at next Monday's workshop meeting, said Acting City Manager Stan Strebel. A vote is expected before the city's moratorium on marijuana businesses expires Sept. 1.

Also Monday, the council unanimously approved zoning for around 300 acres to be auctioned off by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The state is required to auction the property off by next year by a provision in the 2013 state budget. Monday's vote means that about 200 acres will be used for single family homes, with another 33 acres of apartments fronting Interstate 182 serving as a buffer for the neighborhood.

About 50 acres will be set aside for commercial development, most of it north of a planned extension of Chapel Hill Boulevard between Roads 68 and 76. Another 6.5 acres will be set aside for office space.

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

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