Kennewick pot moratorium splits council candidates. Here’s their view on marijuana shops

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Washington is one of three states that send ballots in the mail to all registered voters. Here is how you can check if your vote has been counted.

Two of four candidates who hope to succeed Steve Young on the Kennewick City Council say the city should follow the will of voters who legalized recreational marijuana in 2012

Candidates for the Position 7 at-large seat formerly held by the late Steve Young were asked their views on Kennewick’s moratorium against cannabis businesses Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012 legalizing recreational marijuana statewide.

Kennewick, like most of its neighbors, banned related businesses after the measure failed at the local level. Benton County didn’t ban it until after four legal retailers opened outlets in unincorporated areas.

Candidates Lindy Verhei and Jim Millbauer said they oppose the ban. Russel Del Gesso said he supports it.

The fourth candidate, Radona “Liz” Devereaux, was unable to attend the forum but later told the Herald she’s more concerned that a sitting councilman, Steve Lee, co-owns one of the county’s legal shops, Green2Go in Finley.

Devereaux said it’s a conflict for a city councilman to own a marijuana business, even if it operates lawfully and is not in the city.

“The moratorium needs to be lifted or the business needs to be shut down,” she said.

Lee, who serves as the city’s mayor pro-tem, is not up for election this year.

Position 7 is one of three seats on the ballot and one of two with no incumbent.

It’s too early to say what, if any, effect the election will have on the city’s moratorium. But Wednesday’s forum suggests the question is on the minds of voters.

The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has authorized at least three marijuana retail outlets in Kennewick, but they cannot open under the local prohibition.

Millbauer is a Hanford pipefitter who said he personally opposes legal marijuana but respects the outcome of the 2012 election.

“There’s no reason for the moratorium,” he said.

Verhei, who has worked in recovery and detox, said she’s encouraged by research that suggests drug addicts are more successful in overcoming opioid addiction if they have access to marijuana.

She too said the 2012 election results should be respected.

“We should stick with the will of voters,” she said.

Del Gesso, a real estate professional and business owner, disagreed. He said he opposes legalizing drugs and wants the moratorium to remain.

The names of the four candidates will appear along with that of Young on the Aug. 6 ballot.

Young died shortly after he filed to run for re-election in May. The top two finishers will advance to the November general election. The winner will be seated once the election is certified.

The council appointed Ed Frost to fill Young’s empty seat until then.

Candidate priorities

Verhei, who works as a leasing agent for low-income housing, previously ran for city council in 2017. Her priorities include public safety, with an emphasis on developing a transportation infrastructure to reduce drunk driving.

She would take steps to accommodate people with disabilities. She cited the need to remove snow from sidewalks as an example. She supports child-centered programs that focus on at-risk youth.

Millbauer is another election veteran.

He is a journeyman pipefitter for Mission Support Alliance and serves as project chief steward for pipefitters at Hanford. He is active in union affairs, serving as an elected trustee for the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council and in other roles.

He serves on a labor advisory group to U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.

He supports healthy economic growth that builds business in industry.

Del Gesso grew up in Yakima and moved to Kennewick by way of Ellensburg in 2007, drawn by the opportunities in real estate. He owns several businesses, including Ed and Moes Pawn Shop and a real estate business.

He has been active in the Historic Downtown Kennewick partnership and Tri Cities Amateur Hockey Association.

His priority is to ensure the community continues to offer opportunities and a quality of life that allows young people to stay and raise families. The Benton County Republican Party voted to endorse Del Gesso in the primary.

Devereaux is a combine driver who has become a Second Amendment activist after Washington voters passed Initiative 1639 last fall, placing age and other limits on firearms ownership.

She has lobbied to repeal the initiative and regularly attends city council sessions to promote an ordinance that would declare Kennewick’s support for gun rights.

She is also running to support agricultural and industrial expansion in Kennewick through zoning changes.

Financial support

Verhei’s campaign is registered as a “mini” filer with the Public Disclosure Commission and will not raise more than $5,000 during her campaign.

Young registered as a mini filer prior to his death. Devereaux has not filed any reports with the regulatory agency.

Millbauer’s campaign has raised $11,285 in cash and $143 in in-kind contributions, according to the PDC. His top supporters are Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 598 ($2,000), United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1439 ($2,000), UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 32 PIPE PAC ($1,000), SEWA Central Labor Council ($1,000).

Del Gesso’s campaign has raised $6,550 in cash, including $2,000 from the candidate and $1,000 from one of his businesses, G2M Enterprises LLC. Other top supporters include Tri-Cities Association of Realtors PAC ($1,000) and Bart Roach ($1,000).

How to vote

Washington elections are conducted by mail.

Voters can return ballots at official drop boxes or by mail, using the envelopes provided. Postage is prepaid. The Benton County auditor will mail primary ballots on July 19.

They must be returned or postmarked by Aug. 6. All races appear on the primary ballot regardless of the number of candidates. The outcome of races with two or fewer candidates is advisory only.

July 20 is the deadline to register by mail or online. Aug. 6 is the deadline to register in person at the county auditor’s office.

For more information about the election or the online voters guide, visit bentonauditor.com/Current-Election