The July 2 council meeting will likely be packed. Will the council have the five votes needed to overturn the current ban on marijuana shops in Federal Way, or will they vote to place the issue as an advisory ballot on the November election schedule?
Readers will recall that voters legalized marijuana a few years ago and pot shops have been in the surrounding communities since. A random sample from other elected officials suggests that most shops have caused little trouble in their city. Voters in Federal Way by a 53-47% margin agreed with the rest of the state’s voters. At that time, we had a more conservative City Council, and a former prosecutor, Jim Ferrell as mayor, who were against the legalization, though Ferrell did follow the voters’ ruling and had city staff prepare for implementation.
However, the council wanted a moratorium, including current council members Lydia-Assefa-Dawson and Martin Moore. Council members decided that the public must not have understood the question or what they were voting on, so they changed the question and voted to put a different question on the ballot for voters. The question became, do you want pot shops in Federal Way? In that election 61% voted against having pot shops in the city and 39% voted in favor.
Ferrell is still mayor and still opposes marijuana, but this council isn’t as conservative as the previous one, and this council is looking for money to spend on programs for youth.
The discussion for the last year has been how to obtain additional revenue sources for the city, and recently allowing pot shops in town became part of the debate.
Full disclosure, I voted against the legalization, but I also believe we have a democracy for a reason and that voters understood what they were doing when they voted to legalize marijuana. I think most voters understood that a yes vote would include Federal Way. The second vote appeared designed to obtain a more favorable outcome to those who didn’t want pot shops.
The discussions on additional income included other topics as well. But this was the hot one and the question was, should the council vote to overturn the city ordinance that memorialized the ban against pot stores or should the council pass a resolution to place another advisory vote on the ballot?
It is an important difference.
An ordinance can be vetoed by Ferrell, and it would take five council members to override the veto. It only takes a majority to pass a resolution and place the matter on the ballot, and it is not subject to veto. In Olympia, the legislative school of thought is: “If you have the votes then vote, if you don’t have the votes you talk.” The question for the group that wants to allow shops in the city is whether there are five votes since a veto would be expected by Ferrell. At this point, it appears there are only four votes, not five votes for an override.
Those who favor the shops appear to be Deputy Mayor Susan Honda and council members Dini Duclos, Lydia Assefa-Dawson and Jesse Johnson. Council members Martin Moore, Mark Koppang and Hoang Tran are opposed. Assefa-Dawson voted for the moratorium earlier.
The fifth vote is uncertain so the council instructed city staff to prepare a resolution for the ballot and let the public decide. Unless a fifth vote materializes and changes the dynamics, it is possible that all seven council members will vote in favor of the resolution to let the public decide. That will make it a major part of council elections and give both sides plenty of time to organize a campaign for or against passage.
The secondary issue of looking for money in different places, and with legal shops all around Federal Way, there is the desire for Federal Way to get its share. That share is currently going elsewhere. If Federal Way opens some shops, it is unlikely to grow the market much. And the money the city could get? City staff estimated it is between $108,000 and $185,000.
But the real issue will be, are you in favor of pot shops in Federal Way or not?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact email@example.com.