Man fights for pot store in Pasco

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 12, 2014 

David Morgan knew it would be an uphill fight to open a marijuana store in Pasco.

The city council had already imposed a temporary moratorium on marijuana sales, growing and processing when he first applied in December last year to open Lucky Leaf at 404 W. Lewis St.

"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it," said Morgan, 33, a lifetime Pasco resident. "I'm just into startups and building something out of nothing."

The city's second six-month marijuana business moratorium is set to expire Sept. 1. But the council isn't expected to wait that long before voting on a permanent ban. It will review an ordinance to prohibit sales and production of recreational and medical marijuana at Monday's meeting, and could vote on the ban July 21.

A majority of council members have said they will vote in favor of the ban. Council voted 6-1 to ask staff to write the ordinance at last week's meeting, but not before Morgan asked them during a public hearing to consider allowing his downtown store.

Morgan, a married father of two who works in Internet design, did not give up after the vote. He sent Mayor Matt Watkins a letter with counterpoints to the mayor's concerns that marijuana businesses will add to police costs, including a link to a story in The Daily Chronic that said crime in Denver has dropped by 10.1 percent since legal marijuana sales started in Colorado.

Morgan also argues that he has made every effort to make zoning for the location as easy as possible. The state Liquor Control Board pre-approved the site, which has been vacant since Mi Hacienda restaurant closed. It is five blocks from the headquarters for Pasco police and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, he said. The Liquor Control Board prohibits having marijuana retailers near places where kids congregate, such as schools, arcades and playgrounds.

"The location met the state's requirements," he said. "There was quite a lot of work done to get it to that point."

While the city wouldn't get any of the tax money the state charges for marijuana sales, it would see benefits, Morgan said. He points to the TumbleWeed Farm, a Benton City marijuana grower and processor, which spent $200,000 on equipment and services from local businesses.

"There is a very big trickle effect that takes place that many may not consider at first glance, such as the jobs that will be created and the local businesses that will gain sales providing materials, products and services to marijuana-related businesses," he told Watkins in his letter.

Morgan brought up some good points, but his argument isn't likely to change the council's direction, Watkins told the Herald on Friday.

Watkins doesn't have "empirical data" to show that cities would have additional police costs because of legal marijuana sales, he said. But he pointed to police officers who waited outside Tuesday's opening of a marijuana store in Prosser -- the only one to open in Benton or Franklin counties -- as evidence that cities might bear increased costs.

"I don't think the police officers' salaries and benefits are going to be covered by a small portion of sales tax," Watkins said, referring to what the city would see from the state.

Cities could also see additional administrative costs related to planning and zoning for marijuana businesses, Watkins said.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Herald's editorial board this week that lawsuits have already been filed in two places that have banned marijuana sales in Washington, and he expects whichever side loses the cases to appeal them to the state Supreme Court.

Ferguson issued an opinion in January stating that nothing in Initiative 502, passed by voters in 2012, prohibits cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions.

"There's broad deference to give local jurisdictions discretion," Ferguson said. "There's a good reason -- they're closest to the people."

Morgan said some people have advised him to hire an attorney, but he hasn't decided whether to do that.

"At this point, I'm still trying to speak to the city council and talk to others in the same industry that are facing difficulties," he said.

Helping revitalize downtown Pasco is another reason Morgan wants to open a store there, he said.

"It's a cool part of town," he said. "I'm kind of interested in old buildings. I just want to play into the old-school feel."

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

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