Comment: Lynnwood’s cannabis ban stifles business, progress

The city council’s reversal of a vote to consider retail marijuana is based on unfounded fears.

By Josh Estes / For The Herald

In Lynnwood residents were hopeful for progressive change with new City Council members. Campaigns promised forward-thinking policies and support for small businesses. However, despite these assurances, the council has upheld outdated restrictions on retail cannabis, stifling economic growth and contradicting its own resolutions.

The ban on retail cannabis in Lynnwood is justified by outdated arguments suggesting that these stores would harm public health and safety. However, these claims lack substantial evidence. Across states where retail cannabis is legal, studies have shown that regulated cannabis stores can integrate into communities without negative health impacts (tinyurl.com/NORMLproximity). Instead of basing decisions on facts, the Lynnwood City Council relies on fear-mongering tactics that do not reflect the realities of legal cannabis.

Recently, there was hope for change. A majority of the City Council members voted to overturn the ban on retail cannabis and directed the city planning commission to investigate the policy. This move suggested a shift toward supporting small business growth. Unfortunately, this progress was short-lived.

One supportive council member resigned due to health issues, and the minority faction of the council motioned to rescind the decision immediately after. By making the motion, they removed the objectivity of the planning commission, which is hypocritical and the exact opposite of what it means to avoid legislating from the dais. The vote resulted in a tie, and the mayor, who as a former council member opposed to lifting the ban, cast the deciding vote to rescind. This decision left Lynnwood back at square one.

This situation is particularly frustrating given Lynnwood’s recent unanimous passage of a Small Business Week Proclamation on April 22, aimed at fostering local economic growth. The continued ban on retail cannabis contradicts this resolution. By preventing cannabis stores from operating, the council denies local entrepreneurs the opportunity to contribute to the city’s economy. Retail cannabis can bring additional tax revenue, create jobs and stimulate economic activity, aligning with the goals of the small business resolution.

Opponents of retail cannabis have cited concerns about “smash-and-grab” robberies, claiming cannabis stores attract more crime. However, organized retail crime affects all types of retailers, including convenience stores and bars. Blaming cannabis retailers for a disproportionate risk is false and a clear scare tactic.

The Everett Police Department studied these businesses and found they were no more likely to increase calls for response than other related retail businesses. The official report from 2019 concluded, “Recreational Marijuana Stores in the City of Everett do not reveal a significant number of calls for service or cases at their exact locations.” These findings debunk the notion that cannabis stores pose a greater risk to public safety.

Adding to the potential for growth is the upcoming launch of Lynnwood’s Link light rail extension, set to open on Aug. 30. This extension marks a major milestone, connecting Lynnwood to the broader regional transit system and facilitating easier access for residents and visitors. With an expected 47,000 to 55,000 daily riders by 2026, the light rail line will bring unprecedented connectivity and convenience to Lynnwood. This infrastructure investment signifies a transformative era for the city, poised to become a vibrant hub for housing, services, retail, and restaurants, as The Herald reported April 4.

The introduction of light rail underscores the need for Lynnwood to embrace the future and support small businesses, including retail cannabis. The light rail will inevitably increase foot traffic and business opportunities in the area. Restricting retail cannabis not only contradicts the city’s small business resolution but also undermines the potential economic benefits the light rail can bring. It is counterproductive to maintain these outdated bans while investing in infrastructure designed to stimulate growth and connectivity.

Furthermore, continuing the ban on retail cannabis harms the advancement of social equity programs, which aim to address the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on minority communities, including Black and Latino residents. Social equity programs are designed to help those most affected by previous drug laws participate in and benefit from the legal cannabis industry. By maintaining the ban, Lynnwood stifles economic opportunities for all and prevents marginalized communities from accessing benefits intended to rectify past injustices, as reported by The Associated Press on April 19.

The inconsistency between the council’s actions and its stated goals is disappointing. The residents of Lynnwood deserve a council that not only speaks of progress but also takes concrete steps to achieve it.

Supporting retail cannabis is not just about adhering to a progressive agenda; it is about recognizing the benefits of regulated markets, supporting local businesses, and aligning with the community’s best interests. Real change, grounded in facts and focused on the future, is essential. The council’s actions should reflect its words, supporting small businesses and embracing the values they champion.

Only then can Lynnwood move forward, leaving stagnation behind and stepping into a more prosperous future.

Josh Estes is a Snohomish County resident and governmental affairs and public relations consultant, advocating for small businesses and community development. He is the managing partner of Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies LLC, focused on partnerships and policies that benefit local economies and small businesses.

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