City council chambers were nearly filled to capacity Tuesday night over an issue that remains a hot debate in Federal Way: Marijuana retailers.
One item on the June 4 council meeting agenda was a “discussion regarding Advisory Vote on Marijuana Stores in Federal Way,” and residents may get a chance later this year to vote again on whether to allow marijuana retailers in Federal Way.
In November 2015, Federal Way voters opposed marijuana retailers inside city limits in a nonbinding advisory ballot — despite the previous statewide vote three years earlier to legalize recreational usage — with 9,117 voting no (about 61%) and 5,737 voting yes. The council subsequently banned these businesses from opening in the city.
The debate around the pros and cons of having marijuana retailers in the city has not ceased. Tuesday’s council meeting saw one of the longest public comment periods with more than 30 people voicing their opinions on whether marijuana stores would have a positive or negative impact on the city. There were also 12 written comments about lifting the moratorium.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell supported the council’s decision Tuesday to consider another public advisory vote on this issue, and encouraged people to reach out to council members and attend the July 2 council meeting to voice their opinions. If the council approves a resolution on the matter, the public could see an advisory vote on the Nov. 5 general election ballot on whether to allow marijuana retailers.
“The council wants to reflect the will of the people prior to making a policy decision going forward. The final decision on whether or not to put an advisory vote on the ballot will be made at the July 2 meeting,” Ferrell said.
One public commenter at Tuesday’s meeting, Adam Schafer, said he wanted to address some incorrect opinions about cannabis being a gateway drug.
“In my experience,” he said, “marijuana is a gateway out of addiction, not a gateway into addiction.”
Even with the large amount of support from citizens, there were several people who were adamantly against bringing any marijuana retailers into the city. One woman, Susan Hastings, said she believed marijuana to be a gateway drug to harder substances, and said the destruction of families over this drug isn’t worth the additional revenue it could bring to the city.
“Don’t look for income on the backs of other people,” Hastings said, concerned about what could be allowed in the future if marijuana retailers are legalized in Federal Way. “What will not generate revenue? Prostitution? Selling baby parts?”
Still, many people came forward discussing their past with opiate addiction, and said marijuana saved them from getting further into hard drugs. One woman, Kat Morrison, spoke from personal experience, as she is a survivor of opiate addiction, she said.
“Opiates were killing me,” Morrison said. “Cannabis has saved this girl’s life.”
Allison Taylor, an outspoken citizen and advocate in Federal Way for several issues including marijuana retailers and the LGBTQ community, said the city is in too dire a need for revenue to not consider allowing retailers. She spoke about the potential location for the marijuana retailers that is the legally required 1,000 feet away from any schools in the area.
Should retailers be allowed in city limits, the store location would be at 31140 Pacific Highway S., Suite A, near Federal Way High School.
Taylor said in that same parking lot where the potential marijuana retailer would go is also a bikini barista coffee stand, where the baristas, who typically wear lingerie-type clothing as part of their work uniform, are in full view of students walking to and from school.
“We cannot pretend to have moral authority over one issue and be blind to the next,” said Taylor, who ended her comment by calling for the city council to overturn the previous vote right there during the meeting.
Daniel Miller, a resident concerned about having marijuana stores in city limits, said he does not think the added revenue from these stores will outweigh any potential consequences.
“The black market is still here even with legalization in Washington state,” he said. Because of this, he said he does not believe marijuana retailers will decrease the use or consequences of harder drugs in the city.
During the council discussion, it was noted that Auburn, a city close to the size of Federal Way that does allow retailers, receives over $100,000 in excise and sales tax from their stores.
Dana Hinman, director of administration for the city of Auburn, said Auburn’s portion of the sate distribution is around $180,000 per year based on the sales of the three marijuana retailers in city limits.
She also said early feedback from Auburn’s Planning and Economic Development Department shows the city’s experience with the marijuana stores is not very different from their experience with other retailers.
“In the broad sense our experience is unremarkable,” Hinman said.
Should marijuana retailers be allowed inside Federal Way city limits, it is unknown exactly how much additional revenue this could bring. Chase Donnelly, accounting manager for the city, said Federal Way’s portion of the sales tax rate is 0.85 percent. That would mean if marijuana retailers in Federal Way grossed $1 million in sales, the city would see revenue of about $8,500 on top of a state distribution of $100,000.