The Benton City Council’s decision to seek an advisory ballot on legalizing marijuana businesses will delay the decision by four months and will saddle the city with thousands of dollars in election-related costs.
The council was poised to approve an ordinance authorizing marijuana businesses Tuesday but backed off in the face of vivid opposition. It voted 3-2 to shelve the ordinance pending an advisory ballot.
Ken Orr, city attorney, said the election won’t take place until either the Aug. 2 primary or the Nov. 8 general election. The city will pay Benton County to insert its measure on the ballot.
Benton County elections officials weren’t available to estimate the cost of an advisory ballot. However, the county previously estimated the cost to put an item on the August ballot at $12,000 to $15,000. The figure rises to $22,000 for the November ballot because of the increased cost associated with managing turnout in a presidential contest.
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Benton City’s marijuana ordinance would allow retailers, producers and processors to apply for conditional use permits to operate in the city’s industrial and commercial zones, chiefly along the southern border at Interstate 82. Supporters say it is needed to regulate an existing activity and increase tax receipts.
Opponents called it a moral issue and said the city shouldn’t be increasing the availability of marijuana in its jurisdiction.
Council members Lisa Stade, Mary Lattau and Jake Mokler voted to shelve the ordinance and put the issue before voters.
Washington voters legalized recreational use with the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012. Benton City would have joined Prosser as the only two cities in the county to legalize related businesses.