At least 41 cities have banned recreational marijuana shops

When Snohomish City Council members voted to ban recreational marijuana businesses in the city, they joined a growing rebellion against the state’s newest industry.

Elected leaders of at least 41 cities, including six in Snohomish County, and three counties have enacted prohibitions against wholesale and retail cannabis operations. The list includes Kent and Yakima as well as Pierce, Clark and Yakima counties.

Another 80 cities or so, including Lynnwood, have moratoriums in place to bar wannabe entrepreneurs from setting up shop in the foreseeable future, based on news accounts and a tally kept by the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

That means roughly 40 percent of Washington’s 281 cities are saying “no” or “not yet” to the cannabis industry that was created by voters two years ago with passage of Initiative 502.

In spite of such opposition and reluctance, there’s no move afoot to repeal that law. But it’s evident that while plenty of Washington residents embraced the idea of a legal marijuana trade — I-502 garnered nearly 56 percent yes votes — plenty now shudder at the thought of it transacting anywhere near them.

“It is a huge struggle,” said Dominic Corva, executive director of The Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy in Seattle, a think tank that promotes a cannabis industry through research and action.

“What’s going on here, I think, is when people voted for it they had no knowledge of how cannabis agriculture works. They voted for the idea in the abstract and now seeing it in practice they don’t want it that way,” he said. “It’s like an angry rebellion in residential areas.”

In many instances the elected leaders are going against the grain of their community’s voters in the 2012 election.

Voters in five of the six cities in Snohomish County with bans — Snohomish, Marysville, Mill Creek, Monroe and Sultan — backed the initiative. Level of support ranged from 51 percent in Mill Creek to 56 percent in Sultan.

Only in Stanwood does the imposition of a ban earlier this year mirror the sentiment of the electorate. In the final tally, 1,373 voters backed the initiative while 1,401 opposed it.

The causes of the spreading insurgency vary.

In some cities, council members were worried too many pot sellers would open and eventually become a burden on police resources. In others, there’s frustration that the law doesn’t give cities a share of marijuana taxes, and until that changes they aren’t willing to allow it.

In Snohomish, residents and faith leaders organized under the banner of No Operational Pot Enterprises, or NOPE. They packed the council chambers Oct. 7 to convince the council to bar businesses they said would mar the community’s character.

“We’d rather it not be in our little Mayberry,” Melissa Stitt said at the meeting. “Let’s keep Snohomish Snohomish.”

Supporters appear to be caught off-guard by what amounts to the need to conduct a campaign on the costs and benefits of cannabis in communities throughout Washington.

Individuals, some wishing to get into the business, do make their case in council chambers, but their voices are drowned out by opponents.

Corva said a better organized response is needed to counter the rebels if the fledgling industry is to get the chance to prove itself beyond the borders of the 90 cities where it is allowed.

“We’ve got to reorient our sense of how to deal with this,” he said. “We weren’t thinking about it that way.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com/thepetridish. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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