Cities, counties may get new incentives to allow pot sales

State lawmakers may give cities and counties new incentives to allow marijuana shops and grow operations.

The state House voted Friday for a proposal that would give local governments a cut of the state’s weed revenue if they allow the state-licensed businesses voters approved in 2012. A last-minute change to the plan would also restrict local bans and moratoriums on pot sales.

“Voters deserve to trust that their decisions count,” Rep. David Sawyer, D-Lakewood, said in a statement. “Despite a resounding decision from the people they represent, members of the Pierce County Council and Lakewood City Council chose to circumvent their voters and ban marijuana stores in their jurisdictions.”

Marijuana businesses aren’t allowed in several South Sound communities. In Lakewood and unincorporated parts of Pierce County, local officials say they aren’t banning the sales — just following federal law.

“A change is made to a federal law at the federal level,” Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson said. “Some states in the South voted to ignore federal law about 150 years ago. It’s just, ‘They voted for it’ — that’s not a convincing argument.”

A bipartisan 67-28 vote by the Democrat-controlled House Friday evening sent House Bill 2136, which would lower marijuana taxes and change how the proceeds are spent, to the Republican-controlled Senate for consideration.

Its prospects there are uncertain. The Senate has voted for a competing measure that wouldn’t restrict bans and that would share some marijuana revenue even with local governments that don’t have the businesses.

On Friday, Sawyer managed to amend the House bill to pre-empt local bans unless voters in those jurisdictions approve them.

Marijuana-legalization Initiative 502 promised an orderly system that would curb the black market, said a supporter of his amendment, Rep. Cary Condotta. That requires a uniform network of state-licensed stores across the state, he said.

“We have to have that, or the criminal element remains in place,” said Condotta, R-East Wenatchee.

As is typical for marijuana votes in the Legislature, sentiments crossed party lines. Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, opposed the restriction, saying frustrated voters can always turn their city council and county commission members out of office.

Another opponent, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said it was unnecessary because sharing tax revenues with local governments would encourage uniformity.

“I think that will be a good enough incentive to encourage cities to legalize it in their local jurisdictions,” Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said.

Both the House and Senate call for giving local governments $6 million a year in the short term. But only the House would tie the distribution entirely to whether local governments allow the businesses.

In the longer term, the House calls for giving local governments 30 percent of what the state general fund brings in from marijuana taxes, as long as revenues meet expectations. That could give cities and counties $7.5 million a year or more.

A year ago, disagreement about revenue sharing was among the roadblocks to a medical-marijuana overhaul — which passed the House separately Friday. Some lawmakers had questioned why local governments would need more funding to deal with legal marijuana sales than they did when all sales were illegal.

“I think there’s been broader recognition of the need,” said Candice Bock, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Cities. Since legalization, she said, “There’s more pressure on locals to do more enforcement against the black market.”

With a share of revenue and more clarity on medical marijuana, Bock said, some cities are sure to reconsider their bans.

But she said lawmakers shouldn’t wipe out those bans. Restrictions on local bans don’t appear to be gaining support in the Senate, she said.