EVERETT — A mysterious flyer mailed to homes across the city argues there are more than enough cannabis stores already.
For almost a year, the Everett City Council has considered whether to allow more marijuana retailers. A public hearing and vote to increase the city-imposed cap to eight stores is scheduled for the City Council on March 18. Five stores are allowed and open now. The state allows up to 10 in Everett.
The mailer arrived at homes late last week. It has a map on one side of supposed locations of existing and possible pot shops in Everett and nearby unincorporated parts of Snohomish County.
On the other side, it lists two websites and four “facts.” They include claims that Everett has one of the highest per capita concentrations of such stores, that the city plans to annex up to eight more retail shops into city limits, that four council members have publicly supported increasing access to medical marijuana and that medical and recreational marijuana are “the exact same thing.”
But it doesn’t say who paid for the mailer, or who is behind the message.
“It’s completely inaccurate, and it is freaking people out,” Councilmember Liz Vogeli said.
Everett is not the per capita leader, despite the flyer’s claim. About 110,000 people live in Everett. Olympia has about half of Everett’s population and four cannabis retailers.
Some shops just south of Everett are in unincorporated Snohomish County.
Contrary to what the flyer insinuates, Vogeli said Everett doesn’t plan on annexing any parts of the urban growth area. But she acknowledged making an offhand joke at a city meeting about the pointy southern tip of Everett’s city limits, and turning that triangular boundary line into a square, which would include parcels where cannabis stores are located. Annexation often happens after a citizen petition or vote.
The flyer identifies councilmembers Paul Roberts, Brenda Stonecipher, Judy Tuohy and “Liz Vogelie” as having supported improving access to medical marijuana.
The proposed change to the ordinance specifies the new stores have a medical endorsement, which is regulated by the Washington State Department of Health. There were 16 such locations in the county, including three in Everett, according to the Department of Health.
Vogeli said she supports the medical endorsement requirement. The designation means the store has a certified medical marijuana consultant on staff who can register a patient into the state database and issue a medical recognition card. Medical-grade cannabis requires more testing and is treated like prescribed medicine, Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesman Brian Smith said.
A lobbyist representing one potential weed shop owner and two already operating in Everett said the flyer’s message was about misinformation and money. Josh Estes, of Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies, did not want to speculate about who sent it out, but he has a hunch about the motive.
“The attempts of someone to mislead the public for the sake of protecting a monopoly is detrimental not only to the industry, but it’s also detrimental to the community,” Estes said.
Only one of the URLs on the flyer works. Enoughweedandvapeshops.org asks for help to “stop the city council from falsely using medical as a reason to increase the number of cannabis shops and allowing them to pop up closer to one another and (residences).” A reporter’s messages sent to the site’s “leave a message” page were not answered.
The other, a Change.org petition, leads to a page-not-found message.
While political, it’s not considered political advertising regulated by the state Public Disclosure Commission, because it does not request support (through dollars, votes or other means) in an election. Instead the mailer is about a City Council action.
Last year the Everett City Council public safety subcommittee determined that marijuana stores are not an out-sized burden on police. A 2018 Everett Police Department report found the five cannabis stores accounted for 168 calls for service in 2016. Three of the stores averaged 911 calls at a rate similar to bars and taverns, about one call or fewer per month. Police calls for service at a few convenience stores were almost three times as high in 2016 and more than four times higher in 2017, according to the report.
Everett has dealt with a structural budget deficit for more than 15 years, partly due to the need for voter approval for tax increases higher than 1% and due to flagging retail sales. Allowing a few more stores to operate could help recover some of that in a small way.
“It’s not even about revenue,” Vogeli said. “I don’t think that’s going to skyrocket. It’s not going to answer all our problems. … Essentially they’re a business. Let them be a business.”
Legal cannabis retail was a billion-dollar industry between July 2018 and June 2019 in Washington, where the products are heavily regulated and highly taxed.
Five stores in Everett between November 2017 and September 2018 generated almost $17 million in sales, according to Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board data. A small portion of that collected tax is distributed to local governments where stores operate, such as Everett and Snohomish County.