Legislators look to end municipal marijuana bans, moratoriums

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By John Stang for TCAJOB

Benton and Franklin counties could find their bans and moratoriums on selling retail marijuana revoked in 2017.

Just before the end of the 2016 legislative session, Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, and Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, introduced a bill to require counties and cities to lift their bans and moratoriums on the retail sale of marijuana.

Unless the bill finds its way into the Legislature’s final budget bill by Mar. 10, it will be on the legislative docket in 2017. Hurst is chairman of the House Commerce & Gaming Committee, which handles marijuana issues in the House. Condotta is the committee’s ranking Republican.

Marijuana can be grown, processed and sold in many Washington cities and counties. And many cities and counties have voted to ban those activities —creating a patchwork of where selling marijuana is legal and illegal across the state. Hurst’s and Condotta’s bill would forbid bans on retail shops, but would allow bans on processors and growers.

Benton County has a moratorium on allowing new retail pot dealers. Franklin County, Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland have outright bans on growing, processing and selling marijuana.

Two teen boys allegedly killing a third teen boy over pot in February in Federal Way— which bans marijuana  — helped prompt Hurst’s and Condotta’s bill. They contend that a city or county banning retail marijuana does not stop pot-related crime, while simultaneously providing more of a market for illegal marijuana. Since about 65 percent of Washington’s marijuana is sold illegally, adding stores helps cut down on illegal traffic, they said.

“It feels like people are closing their eyes and saying marijuana doesn’t exist because we have a ban or a moratorium,” said Hurst at a Mar. 2 committee hearing on the bill.

Marijuana interests supported the bill at the hearing, while the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington Association of Counties opposed it.

“We think these bans are not creating a significant access problem,” said Candice Bock, of the Association of Washington Cities.

The year 2015 saw a major overhaul of the state’s recreational marijuana system — combining it regulation-wise with the state’s medical marijuana system, plus improving on a business system that has never been tried before. Colorado’s and Washington’s voters approved recreational pot in 2012, and the two states have been laboratories for building regulatory and business models for the industry ever since.

“Last year, we did the heavy lifting. This year, we’re just tweaking it,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

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John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a longtime Pacific Northwest reporter. He is a jack-of-all-trades freelancer with expertise in a variety of topics, including the Hanford nuclear reservation, state government, the environment, science and crime.

View all posts by John Stang