Marijuana retailers in Federal Way back on the ballot

Council passes motion putting marijuana retailers back on the ballot for the November election.

Marijuana will be on the ballot for the upcoming November election in Federal Way.

After a lengthy conversation and several public comments both for and against marijuana retailers in the city, the council passed two motions to allow residents of Federal Way to decide whether or not they now want marijuana retailers in city limits.

The arguments both for and against marijuana retailers in Federal Way during the July 2 council meeting were similar to past arguments about increased revenue and use for pain versus increased crime and youth delinquency.

One Federal Way resident, Chrissy Grant, said cannabis has helped her control her medical condition and allowed her to stop taking other medications she used to be on, however, it is difficult for her to get to a retailer outside the city without her own transportation.

“I literally do not feel comfortable bussing 90 minutes each direction to go get my medication,” she said. “I want the taxes to go to our kids, to our school system.”

One Federal Way business owner, Jack Walsh, cited concerns about setting a bad example for youth if retailers were to be allowed within city limits.

“My big concern with having pot shops in Federal Way is the signal it sends to our youth,” Walsh said.

“It sends a signal, basically that the City Council and the city is giving tacit approval that it is fine to be smoking marijuana. That is a message that our youth do not need to have.”

Judy James, who holds a marijuana retailer license for the city, spoke about statistics surrounding marijuana retailers.

“Regulated marijuana stores do not create an environment conducive to crime,” she said. “They do not target advertisements toward teenagers, they have not caused an increase in marijuana use in teens.”

Chris Marr, a former Washington state senator for Spokane, one of three liquor control board members appointed by former Gov. Christine Gregoire to oversee the implementation of I-502, and current consultant to Washington’s alcohol and cannabis industries spoke about his perspective on the issue in Federal Way.

He argued that previously there was much still unknown about how legal marijuana would affect cities, but now that the answer is clearer, the council should vote to overturn the ban.

“Tonight you’ll be considering whether to put this issue before the voters,” Marr said. “With all due respect, and as a former elected official, I ask you why. You were elected to objectively evaluate facts and make decisions. In handing it back you lose another year of revenues, in jobs, in economic development, and consumer and patient access.”

Ken Blevens, of Federal Way, encouraged the council to allow the voters to again have the choice to bring marijuana retailers into the city or not. He also voiced concerns about this issue not being the biggest one in Federal Way, and rather asked for resources to be focused on the homelessness and crime in the city.

“The city needs to focus a lot more on [homelessness] than stuff like this,” he said. “If this is gonna be something that goes through and people vote for it, great, let’s do it as a people… but let’s take the revenues and actually put it towards something that makes people safe in Federal Way.”

He asked for any revenue that comes from retailers, should the vote go through in November, to be used towards police and law enforcement.

Federal Way city attorney Ryan Call later stated during a presentation to council about the motions that a council vote overturning the ban would be legally impossible, as only another ordinance voted on by the council could retract the current ordinance banning marijuana retailers.

Several residents also spoke about using potential revenue from marijuana retailers to help the growing homeless population in Federal Way.

Before the council voted 6-1 to pass the motion, several council members spoke about their perspectives on the issue.

Council member Jesse Johnson said he believed the vote would pass this November after speaking with several citizens over the past few weeks since the June 4 meeting.

“I support [marijuana retailers] for several reasons. I think it will bring crime prevention efforts to our city and homelessness money,” he said. “I think it will be a good thing for our community.”

And as for community questions about having another vote on this issue, Johnson said enough time has passed to consider if the community has changed direction in their perspective.

“Every four years as a country we choose a new president and direction for our country, so why not, five years later, bring it back to the vote of the people.”

Council member Dini DuClos said from her perspective and what she’s seen in other cities, marijuana retailers would not cause the problems some people think they would in Federal Way.

“Some of you know I have a home out in Ocean Shores … they have a pot store,” DuClos said. “[The City Council] don’t even bring up pot as a problem.”

She said she also wants the community to know they have another chance to make a decision here, and is encouraging the community to vote come the November election.

DuClos also cited her personal experience with smoking cigarettes versus smoking marijuana.

“Smoking does more harm to you, I think, than marijuana does. Actually, in Boston I went to a party and they had marijuana … and all it did was make me laugh, to tell you the truth.”

Council member Hoang Tran was the only council member to vote no on the motion, citing personal concerns about allowing shops inside city limits.

“I’m against it for several reasons,” he said.

Tran cited an article coming from Ohio State News that said marijuana retailers increase property crime.

“Some of you shared with us that pot shops have super high-end security systems,” he said. “That’s great. But my concern is what about the residents that live nearby who can’t afford to have that type of security system. Whose there to protect their homes and their property?”

He also cited a KOMO News article from 2017 that stated emergency calls relating to marijuana are up in Washington state.

Tran said he is concerned about marijuana retailers using additional police resources if they are allowed to come into the city.

“They will utilize additional police resources, we don’t even have enough as of now,” Tran said. “Many of you come to this council and share with us your concern … you want an officer to be there the moment you call 911. Think about this for a minute. If another business takes up that finite resource, you will have to wait a little bit longer for the officer to be there.”

During the June 4 council meeting, the council heard over an hour of public comment from people who were encouraging marijuana retailers to be welcomed into Federal Way, and those adamantly opposed to the potential motion.

This has been a contentious debate for the city for years, with the first vote on it having been done in 2015 that showed Federal Way residents did not want retailers in city limits in a 63% majority vote.

Several people supporting the motion during the early June meeting cited the medical benefits of marijuana for people experiencing chronic pain and illness.

Those opposed spoke about concerns that having marijuana retailers inside the city could lead to harder drug use and more criminal activity.

One active Federal Way resident, Allison Taylor, asked the council to vote on it themselves rather than put it up for a public vote. The council instead opted to put a motion forth to vote whether or not they would place the measure on the November election ballot.

Mayor Jim Ferrell said he was thankful the council decided to again give this decision to the people of Federal Way rather than take matters into their own hands.