Politics & Government

Washington cities and counties that allow marijuana sales will get a cut

Cities and counties won’t be forced to accept the marijuana industry, but those that do will get a cut of the revenue.

That’s what state lawmakers decided as they approved new tax levels and regulations for the state-licensed marijuana market Saturday.

But the share of revenue being offered isn’t large enough to change the minds of local officials who otherwise would be inclined to ban the businesses, said Brian Enslow, a lobbyist for county governments.

The revenue would “factor in” to some communities’ decisions, said Candice Bock, a lobbyist for city governments. But she said: “We’ve always said money would never be the only thing that changes a community’s mind, and clearly this isn’t a lot of money to spread around.”

Initiative 502, the 2012 ballot measure that legalized marijuana, didn’t give counties or cities a share of the excise tax on marijuana. Lawmakers agreed to give them $6 million a year for the next two years, then up to $15 million in 2018 and 2019 and up to $20 million a year afterward.

Cities and counties would get about 4 percent of the more than $1 billion in revenue projected over the next four years. That’s if official projections turn out to be accurate; some Democrats say the numbers are too high.

Sen. Ann Rivers, a La Center Republican who helped negotiate the plan sent to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk Saturday, said some local governments have told her they would allow the businesses if they received a share of the revenue.

Once the year-old marijuana market has been around long enough for the state to collect more data on it, lawmakers will have a better idea of how much legalization has increased or decreased local governments’ workloads, said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, another negotiator and a Seattle Democrat.

Regulation of the new businesses may cost money, but legalization could also reduce costs associated with pursuing illegal drug dealers.

The proposal, House Bill 2136, does not restrict local governments from refusing to accept marijuana businesses. The industry is not allowed in Puyallup, Lakewood, unincorporated Pierce County and many other communities around the state.

Opponents of local bans said having areas with no stores would thwart voters’ will and offer places where the black market can continue to thrive, but other lawmakers argued local officials should decide what’s best for their communities.

As part of the plan, lawmakers also offered a new option to local governments struggling to find places for marijuana businesses to locate. They would let local officials shrink state-required buffer zones between the businesses and areas frequented by children to 100 feet, except around schools or playgrounds, where the current 1,000 foot requirement would continue to be mandated.

The bill would make a host of other changes, including collapsing taxes collected at multiple points in the supply chain into a single retail tax of 37 percent. All licensed stores would be subject to the tax, including medical dispensaries due to be licensed by next year under another law change. Buyers, except for medical patients who join a new registry, would pay sales tax on top of that.