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Legalize Richland will sue to put pot on the ballot

Legalize Richland responds to council decision

Jenn Goulet, Legalize Richland spokesperson, says the group intends to sue to lift Richland's cannabis sales ban after the city council shelved a petition signed by more than 2,700 registered voters.
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Jenn Goulet, Legalize Richland spokesperson, says the group intends to sue to lift Richland's cannabis sales ban after the city council shelved a petition signed by more than 2,700 registered voters.

Legalize Richland intends to sue to lift the city’s ban on cannabis businesses after the city council shelved a petition signed by more than 2,700 registered voters.

The council discussed Legalize Richland’s request to lift the city’s moratorium against cannabis during a workshop Tuesday. It took no public comments and did not vote, but agreed by consensus not to submit the matter to voters for an advisory ballot.

Richland like its neighbors instituted a ban on cannabis businesses after Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana with Initiative 502 in 2012. The measure was unpopular locally, losing in both Benton and Franklin County.

Richland council members said an advisory ballot might be interesting, but they doubt public sentiment has shifted since I-502.

“I do not think the attitude of the people of this town has changed. I do not support an advisory ballot,” said Mayor Pro Tem Terry Christensen.

Councilwoman Sandra Kent said residents who want to “engage” with cannabis can purchase it legally in Prosser and Finley. It doesn’t belong in Richland with its strong ties to federal contractors at the Hanford nuclear site.

“Being drug-free is part of Richland’s DNA,” she said.

GoFundMe for legal fees

Legalize Richland was disappointed but not surprised the council opted not to act on its petition.

“It was not the outcome we could have hoped for,” said Andrue Ott, chair of Legalize Richland, which is associated with the Benton County Libertarian Party.

Legalize Richland established a GoFundMe page Wednesday with the goal of raising $15,000 to hire a Richland attorney who has indicated an interest in taking on the case.

The group submitted its petition in November. The 4,500 signatures included about 2,700 valid ones from registered Richland voters, which met the legal minimum for signatures under the city’s charter.

City rejects petition

The city attorney later declared it legally insufficient, saying it illegally encroached on the elected city council’s right to set zoning in the city.

A spokesman for Legalize Richland argues the city is relying on an overly broad definition of zoning that covers most city-related functions. The position essentially erases Richland citizens’ right to petition granted in the city’s charter.

Richland woman talks to the Herald about legalizing Cannabis stores in Richland.

Legalize Richland said it will pursue the case to the state Supreme Court, calling it an important test of the right of citizens to vote on important matters. The organization registered as a committee with the Public Disclosure Commission, Washington’s election watchdog, in 2018.

It is updating its registry to 2019 in anticipation the advisory ballot will happen this year.

Richland, like most of its neighbors, instituted a ban on cannabis businesses after Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

Ott said Legalize Richland will work to recruit candidates to run against the four city council members whose seats are up for election this year — Bob Thompson, Terry Christensen, Brad Anderson and Phil Lemley. Thompson was elected by his peers to serve as Richland’s honorary mayor.

3 retail licenses issued

The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has issued three licenses to cannabis retailers in Richland, but the local ban has prevented them from opening.

Richland is one of 79 cities and counties statewide that have instituted bans or moratoriums against cannabis businesses legalized by Initiative 502.

Locally, the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland have banned cannabis businesses. Franklin County banned it as well.

Benton County enacted a series of bans in 2017, after several retail stores as well as producers and processors had already opened.

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Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.
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