Navigating the complexities surrounding our state’s legalized marijuana industry is a challenge for cities large and small.
Most have opted to place moratoriums on pot businesses within their city limits or to ban them outright, despite a voter approved initiative in 2012 legalizing the production, distribution and sale of marijuana.
Opponents of the law say Eastern Washington voters didn’t approve the measure, even though it passed statewide in 2012. And that’s what counts. A law is a law, like or not. Or find a way to change it.
So cities and counties here have struggled with how to manage the entrepreneurs of the burgeoning industry while balancing the demands of their citizenry. Many prospective business owners have passed the state’s licensing requirements and are free to operate their businesses in Washington state. But then they’re held at bay by local ordinances prohibiting such businesses, even though their affairs are in order in the eyes of the state.
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Benton City was on the verge of becoming the second city in Benton County to authorize marijuana businesses in its limits. The city council had passed the ordinance permitting marijuana producers, processors and retailers to operate there by a 3-2 vote earlier this month. But residents and activists on both sides of the issue turned out in force for this week’s city council meeting.
They expected a crowd and moved from their council chambers to the community center. Even with that, 150 people had to sit outside the building because it was too crowded inside.
And then the council members did something not all of our elected officials do frequently enough: They listened to the people.
With about 70 percent of those speaking at the meeting in opposition of permitting the legal marijuana industry to operate in Benton City, the council decided to let the people decide the issue with an advisory vote.
An advisory vote is not binding but it is a solid indicator of the will of the people. With a population of just over 3,000 in Benton City, statistics say that 80 percent of those are eligible to vote registered to vote. But that doesn’t mean they do.
This issue should be one that brings a high voter turnout. We’re guessing those on both sides will be lobbying area residents of legal age to register to vote and return a ballot when the time comes.
The decision to let the people have a formal say will delay the matter for four months and cost the city a chunk of change. It would go on either the August primary or the November general ballot. Cost to the city for the advisory vote could range from $12,000 to $22,000.
We expect vigorous campaigning from those for and against a local pot industry taking root in the city’s commercial and industrial areas. For local governments, pot is a tricky business with differing rules at the state, local and federal level to juggle.
Benton City’s leaders are doing the right thing. Let the people cast their opinion in a formal but non-binding process. Then make the best decision.