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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council proposal would dedicate some marijuana tax revenue for drug treatment

A share of the city of Spokane's portion of state taxes on legal cannabis would be designated specifically for drug abuse education and prevention under a measure the City Council will consider Monday night.   (Christopher Anderson)

A share of the city of Spokane’s portion of state taxes on legal cannabis would be designated specifically for drug abuse education and prevention under a measure the City Council will consider Monday night.

The city has awarded an increasing amount of cash from state cannabis taxes for use by the Spokane Police Department, totaling $666,700 this year. The measure from Spokane City Council members Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson, who are sponsoring the law, would retain $500,000 for police in future budgets, but additional money would be funneled into its own separate account for education and treatment programs. It also wouldn’t necessarily go to the police department, a change that has Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl concerned about tapping revenue that may be needed to support essential services in a lean budget year.

Stratton said the idea was born out of the discussion between lawmakers and the department last fall over spending of money received as part of the civil asset forfeiture program, which allows police to seize property believed to be involved in criminal activity and use the proceeds to further agency goals. A split City Council increased oversight over the program in September, and lawmakers specifically cited a need for more funding for youth drug prevention programs.

“My interest evolved around that conversation, to make sure those revenues are spent the way they’re meant to be spent,” Stratton said.

State law has changed since passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis but levying a hefty 37% excise tax on retail purchases. That money goes into the state dedicated account, which is divided for many purposes by state law. Many of those payments are to state agencies and universities to promote substance abuse prevention programs and safer consumption of legal cannabis.

But the quarterly payments to state governments, which are based both on sales at recreational retailers with a town, city or county as well as population, do not carry the same restrictions. Spokane County deposits its payments, which have totaled $4.8 million since 2016, into its general fund, which can be used for any purpose.

The city of Spokane has received $3.2 million over the same time period on an annual pace that has increased due to continually growing cannabis sales that show no signs of slowing. Last year, the city received $674,000 from the state, according to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board. The proposal under consideration would call for the proceeds beyond $500,000 be put in a different account that would focus on youth and drug prevention programs. Such money also could be spent by a new panel set up by the city to disburse funds paid by opioid manufacturers as part of a settlement of a federal class action.

Meidl, during an interview Friday, said he is concerned the proposal would tie the department’s hands financially as they face a difficult budget year. The department’s approved budget for 2023 totaled roughly $73 million.

“We know that we are looking at very tight times in 2024,” Meidl said. He also said the city received COVID-19 pandemic assistance from the federal government that was designated for the types of drug-prevention programs envisioned in the law, and that he wanted to make sure the city was spending that money before potential restrictions on future police department spending.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the cannabis revenue law at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday at Spokane City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., beginning at 6 p.m.