A FEW weeks ago the Poulsbo City Council unanimously voted to institute a ban on recreational marijuana businesses and collective gardens.
As Washington state’s first legal recreational marijuana stores open this week under Initiative 502, Poulsbo will not be welcoming such retail operations.
In voting to ban such businesses, Poulsbo joined a handful of other cities in Washington, including Wenatchee, Centralia and Fife. A state attorney general’s opinion in January stated that Initiative 502 did not preclude local government authority to regulate matters within its jurisdiction.
Each community cited various reasons for their decisions, ranging from federal law to health and safety concerns — real or perceived. But none of these were Poulsbo’s concern.
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Reaction was swift from some quarters regarding Poulsbo’s ban, best exemplified by an interview I participated in with Seattle’s KIRO radio that attempted to find out why we as elected council members were “thwarting the will of the voters.”
The surprising answer to that question was: We as a council representing our citizens were attempting to carry out the will of the voters.
How can that be? It’s not just political double-talk.
The truth of the matter is buried in state history. The direct parallel to today’s marijuana legalization is the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933. The first thing the state Legislature did back then was sit down with the cities and counties and figure out how to responsibly share the burdens and cost of regulation, inspection and policing.
Why? Simple: Nobody lives on a state level. Nobody shops on a state level. Everybody, including our state legislators, must live in a local community and shop in a local community.
In other words, the impacts of the end of alcohol prohibition, as is the case of marijuana legalization, happened where people lived and shopped — on the local level, not some abstract state level.
Yet unlike 1933, Washington state chose not to share one dime of revenue from the 25 percent marijuana excise tax with the impacted cities and counties of our fair state — or what used to be a fair state.
While cities will collect local sales taxes and local business-and-occupation taxes, which Poulsbo does not have, that revenue would not cover the real costs and burden for cities: the cost of adopting local regulation of marijuana businesses, inspecting these premises and most important ensuring the safety of both producers and customers through good community policing and support.
A long history of local and state government sharing in the burdens, costs and the revenues through taxes of these and other activities has largely fallen by the wayside over the course of the Great Recession, even though it impacted all levels of government.
Poulsbo’s City Council finds the state’s grab of the 25 percent excise tax charged on marijuana at each of the three steps of producing it for market to be unconscionable. Poulsbo’s City Council finds the 2.2 percent share of the 8.7 percent state sales tax that the city receives on all transactions charged to our citizens at point of sale for any item to be far too little.
The state Legislature will do what it sees fit. Local government by the same token must do what it does, to ensure that the voters’ will is carried out responsibly. As I said to disgruntled voters: Don’t get mad at your local council, call your state legislator. If the Legislature would reconsider, Poulsbo would too.
Ed Stern is a member of the Poulsbo City Council, the board of directors of the Association of Washington Cities and the Puget Sound Regional Council.