Benton City voters can let the city council know if they want marijuana sales or production in their city.
Proposition 16-9 is to advise the Benton City Council on whether to allow recreational and medicinal marijuana production, processing and retail sales within city limits. The proposition is on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
The results of the referendum are not binding.
Benton County decided against marijuana sales, but Benton City Mayor Linda Lehman said residents in Benton City lean toward allowing them.
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In March, Benton City officials found about 53 percent of voters in the area wanted marijuana to be sold legally, and that 47 percent were against it, said Lehman.
“We don’t know what the demographic is now,” she said.
The city has a moratorium on marijuana-related business and it expires Nov. 1. The council intends to renew it until after the November general election and said they will make a final decision.
The Benton City Council initially agreed to lift the moratorium and authorize marijuana businesses under the 2012 voter-approved Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana use. The council voted 3-2 on April 5 when the proposal came up for a reading.
But they reversed themselves a few weeks later when a crowd spoke to them at the April 18 meeting. Critics said legalizing marijuana businesses was the wrong move for the city. A minority of speakers countered that marijuana businesses could be a lucrative, tax-paying business for Benton City and good for medical marijuana users.
Council members Lisa Stade, Mary Lettau and Jake Mokler voted to table the ordinance until after the advisory ballot.
If it passed, Benton City would have joined Prosser as the only two cities in Benton County to authorize marijuana businesses.
The state Department of Revenue reported recreational marijuana generated $11.2 million in tax revenue statewide between July 2015 and June 2016. Medical marijuana generated an additional $2 million statewide during the same period.
Leland Kerr, city attorney of Benton City, said there continues to be split among supporters and people opposing it.
“There were somewhat mixed messages received by the city council,” Kerr said.
The council is waiting for the election results to be certified before deciding whether to allow or prohibit marijuana sales at a following council meeting.
Lehman said the council will do what the people want.
“We’ll see what happens this time,” Lehman said.