Lewis County commissioner calls payments for pot sales a ‘ludicrous bribe’

The incentive of tax revenue hasn’t swayed the minds of Lewis County commissioners when it comes to their stance against allowing marijuana businesses in the county.

Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund told The Chronicle on Thursday that the changes to the marijuana tax are “ludicrous” and a “bribe.”

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the recreational marijuana reform bill Tuesday that encourages more cities and counties to allow marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions by only letting pot-friendly local governments share in the tax revenue from the industry.

Fund said it’s going to cost the county money to deal with people driving under the influence of marijuana coming from neighboring towns and counties where producing, processing and selling pot is legal. But the county won’t get any tax from the marijuana operations to help with enforcement costs, unless commissioners OK the industry in unincorporated Lewis County.

“That just seems to me to be ludicrous. It seems to me to be a bribe for counties and cities,” Fund said.

Lewis County commissioners previously said they don’t believe the municipalities will see the money, or much of it, if they allow producers, processors or retailers to open shop.

On Monday, Lewis County commissioners met with the owners of Wild Mint LLC, who want to produce and process organic marijuana on their property in Salkum, and a Tacoma couple who won the lottery to open a retail shop in the county.

Tad Seaton of Tacoma, one of the owners of Americana Weed, said they just want to provide a safe environment for people to buy marijuana and keep them away from the black market while contributing to county revenue.

“We’re trying to get more enforcement and tax dollars for you and do it in a controlled environment,” Seaton told commissioners.

Lewis County has a moratorium in place and is working to finalize code regarding marijuana operations and businesses. However, if county commissioners enact the codes once complete, they also have a stipulation that producers, processors and retailers must get permits not only from the state but also from the federal government.

Summer Chapman, with Wild Mint LLC, said getting a federal permit is “infeasible,” costs thousands of dollars to apply, and they would get laughed at as the attorney general sent out a directive that the federal government wouldn’t challenge state marijuana laws.

In 2012, Lewis County residents voted down Initiative 502, 55 percent to 45 percent. All three commissioners said they don’t want to see marijuana grown and sold in the county because the residents voted against it and because of personal dislike of it.

Fund used to work with addicts who told her marijuana was a gateway drug for them. Commissioner Bill Schulte said he spent 24 years seizing cocaine, heroin and marijuana as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Commissioner Gary Stamper, a former high school principal, dealt with marijuana as a problem in schools.

Chapman thinks some voters may have changed their minds on the issue since 2012. As a medical marijuana user, Chapman said she voted against I-502 because she was concerned about how that legalizing recreational marijuana would affect medical users. She has since changed her mind.

Schulte recommended that Chapman pursue a countywide initiative rather than try to change his mind.

“Quite frankly, unless I saw it in numbers, I would be unwilling to agree with you or change my position,” Schulte said.

Chris Crew, attorney at THC Law Firm representing Wild Mint, said allowing marijuana businesses in the county would make it harder for kids to get because the black market for marijuana would go away, similar to when Prohibition ended.

“There is not a massive black market for alcohol,” he said. “... It’s kind of hard for your kids to get alcohol compared to marijuana.”

He also said the reason marijuana is a gateway drug is because it opens people up to the black market, where they are then encouraged to try other drugs. By making it legal, fewer people will go to the black market to get it.

Chapman said education about marijuana in the county is important not only for kids, but also for the general public.

While commissioners didn’t mention any plans for lifting the federal permit requirement, they do plan to finish the code changes.

“Once the federal government changes, we better be on board ASAP,” Schulte said. “... We have to have a business license process, zoning, all the regulations, water use, all of that has to be done, and we are going to finish that process.”