Black Press File Photo

Black Press File Photo

Marijuana may go back to the ballot in Federal Way

Citizens speak out at council meeting about allowing cannabis retailers in city limits.

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. “I would encourage everyone who is concerned about this issue to reach out to the council and let them know how you feel and/or come to the July 2 meeting and make your voice heard.”

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.”

After several comments about how marijuana retailers in the city would increase accessibility to minors, Tim Burns, a longtime Federal Way resident, told a story about taking his 100-year-old mother to a marijuana retailer to help her with pain.

According to Burns, since his mother no longer drove, her license was expired. Because of this, his elderly mother who had walked into the store with the aid of a walker was asked to leave because her license was not valid, he said.

“Marijuana stores are not the evil that people have been talking about,” Burns said.

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.

Potential revenue

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.

According to Donnelly, revenue from marijuana retailers is unrestricted, so the money could be put toward multiple city projects and programs.

Councilmember Hoang Tran raised concerns about sales by a marijuana retailer in Federal Way given the other stores already established in nearby cities.

“If we enter into this market, it may not increase… the amount of sale in total,” Tran said. “We may just take away some of the sales from other cities.”

Councilmember Dini Duclos said it would be important to take a closer look at the potential revenue and open a conversation with the surrounding cities who have them.

“I just don’t want to close it out right now. I want to look at it as a potential revenue for the city,” Duclos said.

Councilmember Jesse Johnson brought up the accessibility of the city, and how allowing marijuana retailers in the city could potentially increase consumer traffic to Federal Way.

“Accessibility, economic wise and accessibility wise, it’s a good benefit for the city,” he said.

FYI

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who use marijuana typically do not go on to use harder substances. However, the article states that people often try marijuana first before trying other substances.

According to Medical Xpress, marijuana has shown to help people struggling with addiction to opiates.

“Our recent research finds that specific constituents in cannabis may have very profound effects — not only modulating the addictive effects of opioids but possibly serving as a treatment for opioid dependence and withdrawal,” according to the article.

According to a 2014 study from Denver, Colorado, medical marijuana stores were found to have as large of an impact on neighborhoods as coffee shops.

And another study by drugabuse.com said alcohol still remains more dangerous than marijuana. While the article doesn’t say that marijuana is safe, it does state several facts that show it is not as dangerous as consuming alcohol. According to the website, driving impaired by marijuana is not as dangerous as driving impaired by alcohol, though neither is recommended. In fact, the website states that people who drive under the influence of marijuana are 83% more likely to be involved in a car accident, while people who drive under the influence of alcohol are 2,200% more likely to be involved in an accident. The website also reads in part the number of deaths caused by marijuana are almost zero, while the number of deaths caused by alcohol is about 88,000 each year.

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