On Monday, the Pasco City Council in Washington advanced on plans that would lift the ban on retail cannabis in commercial and industrial zones. This move was made at the rejection of inquiring voters about their opinion.
If followed through, Pasco will be the first city government in the Tri-Cities to not ban commercial cannabis. A move that will provide the city with plenty of resources, as estimates show Pasco alone may revenue up to $200,000 annually in cannabis sales.
Still, an ordinance must be passed in the coming months before anyone with a state cannabis license can open up shop.
Cannabis has been legal in Washington for nearly a decade, under Initiative 502. This was initially voted on with 55% statewide approval. However, voters in Franklin County disagreed—with 61% opposing the initiative.
Since then, opinions have changed. A 2021 community survey found that 46% of Pasco residents still opposed selling marijuana within city limits. But 45% agreed they were in support of it.
The Pasco City Council finds itself almost equally divided on the matter. When asked whether or not city voters should have a say in the matter, this was met with opposition in a 4-3 vote.
“I’ve long been a proponent of utilizing the advisory vote process to help use pulse the overwhelming majority of the public, not those who can make it on a certain night, or at a certain time, or at a certain location,” Councilman Pete Serrano, who voted in favor of public vote, said in an interview.
Naturally, this issue has been discussed within Pasco since Washington initially legalized cannabis. Most would agree, such decisions should ultimately be left to the citizens of the city rather than lawmakers.
As Irving Brown Sr., one of the councilmen who voted in favor, discussed: “We have enough information. So, by putting it on a ballot it allows… our constituents to speak, and once we hear from our constituents, we move forward.”
Zoning Discussions and Previous Plans for Pasco, Washington Residents
Still, some argue that community members have already spoken out on the issue. As Mayor Craig Maloney noted, creating an advisory vote would only make “unnecessary churn in the community.”
Not to mention, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has already set a limit of 4 cannabis dispensaries in Franklin County (which includes Pasco). Three of these shops have already been spoken for.
Most councilmen agree that it’s time to draft an ordinance that allows retail cannabis sales. Namely, in Commercial/Industrial 1, 2, and 3 zones. In turn, this would allow a marijuana shop to open up right in downtown Pasco.
This is a big step from the initial (more-restrictive) plan that was proposed by Pasco City Council. At first, cannabis retailers would’ve been limited to opening up locations in east Pasco. However, such plans were considered racist as the area is a historic Black neighborhood.
Brown—the city’s only Black council member—noted that lifting the ban in this location wasn’t intended as a “personal target.” Still, he admits that this was an important perspective to note of.
In an interview, he noted: “But, let’s take a demographic look: Where does it fall? In the marginalized communities. It was an awareness thing – something was brought up, to say, ‘Let’s rethink this.’ I have no problem with that.”