After months of workshops, public hearings, meetings and moratoriums, West Richland officials are poised to vote Nov. 18 on a final citywide ban of businesses growing, producing and selling recreational marijuana.
The ordinance is an extension of the city council’s Sept. 9 vote of 4-3 to craft an ordinance banning recreational marijuana businesses from operating in the city.
“We’re going through the motions to finalize that vote,” said councilman Robert Perkes, who voted against a recreational marijuana business ban in September.
The ordinance would end the current six-month moratorium, which expires April 1, and would modify the city’s zoning rules. The ordinance would take effect five days after a passing vote. Private consumption will not be affected by Tuesday’s decision.
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“If the vote holds the direction that the votes have been the last couple of times, we’ll ban it,” Mayor Brent Gerry said.
Kennewick, Pasco and Richland have all banned recreational marijuana businesses within city limits.
West Richland’s process of regulating recreational marijuana businesses has been a long one. In March, city officials discussed potential zoning regulations. Through the spring and summer, they studied other cities’ ordinances and zoning regulations.
On Sept. 9, after public testimony from dozens of people during a special meeting, the council voted 4-3 to direct staff to draft an ordinance banning the businesses. Richard Bloom, Rich Buel, Byron Martin and Tony Benegas voted for the ban. Gail Brown, Ron Hayden and Perkes voted against it.
A month later, the city’s planning commission recommended the matter be tabled until late February to gain more information on potential legislative updates and legal proceedings early next year. The city council, however, decided Nov. 4 to push ahead with zoning amendments that would effectively ban recreational marijuana-related businesses.
Bloom said a visit by state Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr to the West Richland City Council in August helped solidify his opinion to vote for a ban. Marr discussed marijuana use statistics specific to Benton County, the effect that legal marijuana markets typically have on black markets and the amount of money the state has received through legal marijuana sales.
“The question I asked (Marr), straightforward, is: would we be able to control the product being sold in the facility — mainly edibles — and the answer was no,” Bloom said.
Perkes was also influenced by Marr’s visit.
“Probably the most helpful information has been from the Liquor Control Board,” Perkes said. “We had a presentation, (Marr) came down and laid out a lot of things — the good, the bad, the ugly.”
Perkes doesn’t expect Tuesday’s meeting to stretch as long as other West Richland council meetings where recreational marijuana was discussed, which have lasted hours. A public hearing will be conducted before the council votes, and council members will likely speak before casting their votes.
“We’ve already taken the vote, and everybody knows where they fall,” Perkes said.
Tuesday’s decision won’t completely close the door on recreational marijuana businesses operating in the city. Gerry said a council member in the future could request a majority vote from his or her colleagues to revisit the ordinance. The ordinance could then be reshaped or appealed.
“If the state of Washington were to share in the revenue, which now they do not ... I’m sure the council would want to take a look at it,” Gerry said. He added, “It doesn’t mean it’s a done deal forever.”
Gerry invited West Richland residents to attend Tuesday’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., and thanked them for their civility in previous meetings on the topic.
“I hope the citizens, whether they agree or disagree, respect the difficult decisions the council members have to make,” Gerry said.
About 64 percent of West Richland voters cast ballots against Initiative 502 two years ago.