They want to overturn Richland’s pot ban. And they have a lot of support

At least 4,500 people want cannabis retail stores to sell in Richland

Legalize Richland submitted a petition to change the current law not allowing cannabis retails stores to sell within city limits.
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Legalize Richland submitted a petition to change the current law not allowing cannabis retails stores to sell within city limits.

The Richland City Council may soon discuss a topic it thought it put to bed years ago.

Recreational marijuana.

Tuesday, Legalize Richland turned in more than 4,500 signatures on a referendum calling for the city to lift its ban on marijuana retail and production.

The ban has prevented three marijuana retailers with licenses from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board from opening in Richland — two at Queensgate near Keene and one at Horn Rapids Industrial Park.

Legalize Richland, an offshoot of the Benton County Libertarian Party, is using an unusual law that gives municipal voters an opportunity to alter city law through referendum.

The city clerk has 15 days to certify there are at least 2,650 legitimate signatures, or 20 percent of the registered vote from the prior election.

The city council has 30 days after that to act on the petitions. Failing that, the question will go to voters on the Feb. 12, 2019 ballot.

Richland Mayor Bob Thompson expects the council will want to talk about it.

“That’s kind of our job,” he said Tuesday.

Richland and most of its neighbors adopted local bans on marijuana after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The initiative was unpopular in Eastern Washington, with more than half of voters in Benton and Franklin counties voting no.

The local results inspired local bans in Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, West Richland and Franklin County.

Benton County only banned it this spring after protests arose over a proposed dispensary just outside of West Richland and over harvest-related odors in Finley.

The county ban is not retroactive and left dispensaries in business in Prosser and Finley, along with production and processing facilities.

The mishmash led Legalize Richland to launch a petition drive in April to reverse the city’s decision and allow dispensaries to set up shop.

Ryan Cooper, chair of the Benton County Libertarian Party, said the intent is to allow people who use it to purchase it in their community instead of forcing them to travel, or turn to the black market.

Thompson said it’s no longer clear 2014’s arguments against marijuana apply in 2018.

Crime didn’t spike around dispensaries, he said.

Thompson opposed the original ban, as did now-former Mayor David Rose.

Councilmembers Sandra Kent, Brad Anderson and Terry Christensen supported it. All three remain on the council.

Legalize Richland said it is prepared to take the question to voters in February.

“The people of Richland have spoken,” Legalize Richland Chair Andrue Ott said in a press release. “They want cannabis stores in the city limits of Richland.”

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514