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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Banning licensed pot stores could cost you, lawmakers warn cities

OLYMPIA – Cities and counties that try to keep state-licensed marijuana stores from opening without adopting specific ordinances could pay a price by losing most of their tax revenue from alcohol.

Although a proposal to enforce such penalties is in the early stages of what could be a long legislative journey, members of the House committee overseeing marijuana laws had tough words for cities that use back-door attempts to ban pot stores licensed by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board. 

Some cities and counties adopt specific ordinances against marijuana businesses, and state law already says that cuts them out of marijuana taxes that are redistributed to local government. But others don’t adopt an ordinance, and instead refuse to issue local building permits or business licenses to pot license holders.

They often cite federal laws against marijuana as a rationale for not approving the businesses.

“They are choosing federal law over state law,” said Commerce and Gaming Committee Chairman David Sawyer, D-Parkland. 

Under HB 1099, cities and counties with unofficial marijuana moratoriums would lose their share of marijuana revenue and 70 percent of their share of the “liquor revolving fund,” a collection of all revenue, license and permitting fees and penalties collected on alcohol.

Candice Bock, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Cities, said some cities have “common sense” zoning regulations designed to keep marijuana businesses from concentrating in one area by requiring a certain amount of space between each. Others require permits to be issued only to businesses that follow all local, state and federal laws.

Sawyer scoffed at the suggestion that cities were merely following federal law. Instead, they were ignoring the will of voters who approved ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana in 1998 and recreational marijuana in 2012, he contended.

“If you can find me one voter who didn’t know this was against federal law, I’d like to meet them,” he told Bock.

The organization is concerned about tying liquor revenues to marijuana, she said, adding that right now local government’s share of marijuana taxes is “not a significant amount of money.”

“So what you’re saying is, it’s really about the money,” Rep. Cary Condotta, of Chelan, the top Republican on the committee, countered.

As currently written, the proposed law only mentions pot stores and wouldn’t affect Spokane County’s “temporary moratorium” on new marijuana growing operations. Citing complaints about the smell of such farms, commissioners enacted that rule in November without a public hearing and continued it this month while they continue take public comments on the rule. 

Supporters of the bill said the Legislature had to find ways to force cities and counties to allow licensed marijuana stores as a way to undercut illegal sales. Some suggested a law that wouldn’t allow cities or counties to enact a moratorium, which Attorney General Bob Ferguson are possible right now because they aren’t explicitly prohibited in Initiative 502, the ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana for adults.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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