While Bonney Lake recently approved a non-binding advisory vote to ask its residents their opinion on the city’s marijuana ban when the November general election comes around, a separate public hearing on the ban is scheduled for later next week.
In October 2016, the City Council voted 4-3 to allow the Planning Commission to re-examine the city’s two-and-a-half year marijuana ban and to bring back to the council its recommendation.
As part of that process, the Planning Commission has been once again gathering facts and opinions about marijuana being sold inside city limits, including from the city attorney and the Bonney Lake Police Department.
Public input is also part of the process, and residents are able to submit written comments about the marijuana ban and participate in a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Justice and Municipal Building.
CITY ATTORNEY: CHANGES AT STATE LEVEL
“Quite a bit has changed on the state level,” Kathleen Haggard, the city’s attorney, said at a presentation to the Planning Commission on June 21.
When marijuana first became legal in the state, medical marijuana was still only available through dispensaries, not in retail stores. Additionally, all the money from marijuana excise taxes went to the state.
Starting in 2016, the state introduced a medical marijuana system, shutting down all unlicensed dispensaries.
Additionally, the state is planning on sharing up to $15 million in marijuana excise taxes with cities and counties that either do not have a ban on marijuana producers or are home to a marijuana business, starting in 2018.
And as Washington’s systems become more robust, it is joined by others — eight states, as well as Washington D.C., have fully legalized marijuana, and another 22 states have legalized medical marijuana.
“Many of the remaining states are starting to decriminalize in many ways,” she continued.
However, there are still reasons to be careful, since marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug under federal law, alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
“There may be a reason to be cautious, given the change in administration,” she said. “There’s been public statements made by the current attorney general in opposition to marijuana legalization, but not a lot of traction seems so far by the White House or Congress.”
Haggard also said that marijuana businesses are a cash-only business, and one commissioner pointed out that having such a lucrative cash only business “seems like such a recipe for robbery.”
There have been several robberies of marijuana shops in Washington.
There are also some state credit unions, like Numerica and Salal credit unions, that accept money from marijuana businesses.
POLICE: ADDITIONAL RISKS UNLIKELY
Bonney Lake Police Department assistant chiefs James Keller and Eric Alfano also talked to the Planning Commission about their experience with marijuana and how the city of Buckley, and their two marijuana retail stores, have affected the city.
According to Alfano, there has been no real impact on Bonney Lake by Buckley’s marijuana stores.
“I’ve contacted Chief Arsanto up there and I’ve asked him… they’ve had no uptick in their crime as well,” Alfano said. “The biggest problem they had with the stores is that someone tried to enter the store with a fake identification. That was one of the only calls they’ve ever had with regards to both retail stores and actually going to the businesses for complaints.”
Even DUIs — drug or alcohol related — are down, he said.
“These retail stores aren’t like a tavern or a bar or anything like that. So people aren’t going there and sitting there and getting high and driving from it,” Alfano continued. “They have more of an opportunity to drive drunk leaving a bar than they would if they were leaving a retail store after smoking marijuana.”
Both Alfano and Keller told the commission they were skeptical about marijuana stores moving into their city, but they’ve had their fears allayed since.
“There retail stores are highly secure… They’re regulated to have a secure system better than any bar anywhere else,” said Alfano. “State did a pretty good job making sure these stores are highly secure and regulated. They did their homework in regards to that.”
In the end, Alfano said he was as sure as he could be that there would be minimal negative impact on Bonney Lake, were the marijuana ban lifted.
“I can’t say for sure there would be no uptick of any type of crime,” he said. “Anything is possible when you have human error and interaction with these types of things. But not a huge thing.”
In a separate interview, Police Chief Dana Powers reflected some Alfano’s findings.
“We have not noticed a direct link to increase crime because of the legal marijuana stores; however what we do have to deal with is an increase of DUI’s related to marijuana that has been purchased down the street in Buckley,” Powers wrote in an email. “From what I’ve seen the last couple of years in Buckley in regards to these stores I would be in favor of the ban being lifted so we can see the tax revenue assistance here in Bonney Lake to help the educational and enforcement work we currently are doing.”