Voters force Richland council to reconsider legalizing marijuana shops

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.

A citizen-led effort to force Richland to allow recreational marijuana stores is likely headed to the city council in 10 days.

This week council members were told that it appears enough signatures on a petition are valid, requiring the city to reconsider its ban or allow the public to vote on the issue.

A draft certificate showed Legalize Richland, an offshoot of the Benton County Libertarian Party, collected 2,713 valid signatures — nearly 80 more than it needed for a referendum on the city’s pot ban.

Supporters needed 2,634 valid names — or 20 percent of the nearly 13,200 votes cast at the last regular general election in 2017. They turned in 4,500 signatures.

City Manager Cindy Reents told the council during Tuesday’s regular meeting that the city staff expects to finalize the certificate soon, then the petition will be reviewed by the city attorney before it goes to the council.

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The Richland City Council was told recently that supporters appear to have enough signatures to force the city to reconsider its ban on retail marijuana sales but the city attorney says their initiative is not valid. Brennan Linsley AP

Once the signatures are confirmed valid, the council has 30 days to act on the petition. If it doesn’t, the issue will be put on the Feb. 12 ballot.

The council will receive more information during the Dec. 4 meeting, Reents said.

Legalize Richland Treasurer Ryan Cooper called it a victory.

“If you were to poll the community, I believe a majority of people wouldn’t care if marijuana was legal,” said Cooper. “There are going to be lots of people at the (Dec. 4) meeting. It’s probably going to be a council meeting for the ages.”

The group submitted the 300 pages of signatures and the petition to the city clerk on Nov. 6, after a growing frustration with needing to drive to Finley or Prosser where there are recreational marijuana stores.

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

Richland joined most Benton and Franklin county cities in enacting local bans on marijuana retailers after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012. The initiative put the state liquor board in charge of making rules regulating the sale of recreational marijuana.

Voters in Eastern Washington soundly rejected the proposal, which led to Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, West Richland and Franklin County stopping any dispensaries from opening up.

Benton County put a ban in place this spring after news of a dispensary just outside of West Richland prompted outrage from people living nearby and drew in others upset about the harvest-related odors in Finley.

Richland Mayor Bob Thompson previously said the council would discuss the petition if it received enough citizen support. He opposed the original pot shop ban in 2014, along with now-former Mayor David Rose.

Three current council members — Phillip Lemley, Brad Anderson and Terry Christensen — supported the ban.

Councilwoman Sandra Kent was on the council at the time but not at that meeting, and Ryan Lukson and Michael Alvarez have joined the council since that vote.

Cooper said the tide nationally about marijuana is shifting. He pointed to the passage of a medical marijuana proposition in Utah.

The Dec. 4 meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at Richland City Hall on George Washington Way.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402; Twitter: @cameroncprobert