Saranjit Bassi argued in favor of allowing marijuana to be sold in Bonney Lake, which would allow him to open a store inside city limits. Photo by Ray Still

Bonney Lake puts marijuana advisory on November ballot

Do you want recreational marijuana to be sold in Bonney Lake? The city is asking its residents that very question in the upcoming Nov. 7, 2017, general election.

During the July 18 council workshop, Councilman Dan Swatman asked the council to place a non-binding advisory vote on the upcoming general election.

“I’m interested in what the public has to say,” he said. “I think it would be a great way to put the issue to bed, frankly.”

The council confirmed the advisory vote will make it to the ballot with a 4-2 vote at the July 25 meeting. The ballot measure will ask residents if marijuana should or should not be sold in commercially-zoned areas of the city

Councilmembers Dan Swatman, Randy McKibbon, Katrina Minton-Davis and Jim Rackley voted for the resolution, while Tom Watson and Justin Evans voted against it.

While Evans supports allowing marijuana to be sold inside city limits, he said asking residents about whether the city should or shouldn’t comes close to legislating morality, which the city shouldn’t do.

“What’s the driving point behind doing this, versus actually taking the action upon ourselves?” Evans asked the council. “These are legal businesses in Washington and shouldn’t be restricted.”

Watson voted against the resolution because the city’s Planning Commission is already being tasked with reviewing the marijuana ban, and the commission will provide the council with recommendations that include public comment. Watson also said he would most likely vote against lifting the marijuana ban if it comes to a vote.

The resolution named two people that will be writing the “for” and “against” statements for the future ballot measure.

Saranjit Bassi, who has a license to open a store in Bonney Lake if zoning is approved, is on the “for committee,” while Melborne Howerton, a Bonney Lake resident, is on the “against” committee.

BONNEY LAKE AND MARIJUANA: A BRIEF HISTORY

Bonney Lake has been dealing with the marijuana issue for around five years.

After Initiative 502 was passed in November 2012, but before the state set rules for selling marijuana in Dec. 2013, the City Council passed a temporary moratorium on pot sales inside the city in October. The moratorium was extended for another 120 days in Sept. 2014.

The council eventually banned marijuana from being sold inside city limits on January 13, 2015 with a 6-1 vote. Only Councilwoman Katrina Minton-Davis dissented on the ban.

The concerns of the council at the time were varied: Councilmen Tom Watson and Jim Rackley voiced concern about controlling accessibility to marijuana, especially around students, while Councilman Donn Lewis and former Councilman Mark Hamilton focused more on the risks of allowing a substance still banned by the federal government to be sold inside city limits.

Mayor Neil Johnson also supported the ban, although he did not have a vote.

“I don’t think we need to have it. It doesn’t need to be in Bonney Lake,” Johnson said during the Jan. 6 2015 workshop. “We have the power to ban it. We should ban it, and leave it at that.”

But while council make-up only changed slightly between approving the ban and the present (with Councilman Justin Evans being elected to Hamilton’s seat) it appears the council has softened its stance toward the controversial drug.

Part of the reason could be due to potential Bonney Lake marijuana retailer Sarajit Bassi’s lobbying of the council since the ban was enacted. Bassi originally sued the city because of the ban in April 2014, but the lawsuit was dropped.

Another reason could be economics. When I-502 was originally passed, the excise tax on marijuana only went to the state, not the cities marijuana was sold in.

That has now changed, thanks to RCW 69.50.540, and starting in 2018, counties and cities can start to split millions of dollars in marijuana excise taxes amongst themselves, so long as the state reaches a minimum level of marijuana sales.

According to RCW 69.50.540, if the state collects an excess of $25 million in marijuana excise taxes, thirty percent of whatever else the state collects can be distributed to cities and counties, capping out at $15 million in 2018 and 2019, and increasing to $20 million in 2020.

That should be an easy mark for the state to hit every year, since the state collected a total of $64 million in excise taxes in 2015 and $185 million in 2016.

The Liquor and Cannabis Board recently completed it’s third fiscal year of marijuana sales, from July 2016 to June 2017, and recorded more than $300 million being given to the state in excise taxes.

This means its likely counties and cities will soon be enjoying a large sum of money coming their way. According to MRSC legal manager Jim Doherty, counties and cities that house marijuana businesses split 30 percent of the overall pot amongst themselves. The remaining 70 percent is split between counties and cities without a marijuana ban (but may not be home to a marijuana business) on a per capita basis, with 60 percent going to the counties.

In the wake of these developments, the council voted 4-3 on Oct. 25, 2016 to have the city’s Planning Commission re-examine the marijuana ban. Councilmembers Minton-Davis, Evans, Rackley and Randy McKibbon voted for the review while Lewis, Watson and Swatman voted against it.

Mayor Johnson was also against the motion, and recommended referring the issue to the Community Development Committee “so up to date information regarding the impacts of marijuana on youth and other impacts to Bonney Lake can be evaluated,” reads the council agenda bill pertaining to the review of the ban. “Should the CDC recommend to Council to remove the ban, and the Council accepts that recommendation, then the matter could be referred back to the Planning Commission for consideration of appropriate land use measures.”

The Planning Commission is gearing up for the end of their review of the marijuana ban, and a public hearing is expected on a proposed ordinance on Aug. 16 at the Justice and Municipal Center at 6:30 p.m., said city HR Manager Jenna Richardson.

After the public hearing, the commission will make a recommendation to the council whether marijuana should or should not be zoned, and thus sold, inside city limits.

From there, it is likely the council will wait for the advisory vote results before taking action of the Planning Commission’s recommendation, Richardson added, although there’s been no official discussion.