Town divided over issue of recreational marijuana sales

Town divided over issue of recreational marijuana sales

Town divided over issue of recreational marijuana sales

In 2012, Washington became one of the first two states in the U.S. to legalize the regulated purchase and sale of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes. One of the provisions in the law allows for local communities to determine whether or not to allow the establishment of state-licensed marijuana dispensaries within their respective jurisdictions, such as city and town boundaries.

The Eatonville Town Council previously passed a series of resolutions placing a temporary moratorium on dispensaries within the town. Now it is seeking citizen input in the form of Advisory Vote No.1 on the upcoming November ballot to decide whether to make this moratorium permanent or to instead revise town zoning laws to allow marijuana businesses within town limits.

The issue has raised heated debate among local residents.

“Why should people get so hysterical about marijuana?” long-time resident and No Marijuana Ban in Eatonville committee member Dixie Walter, asked. “It’s not the demon weed that’s so popular with people who believe Reefer Madness.”

That’s not an opinion shared by the Citizens Against Marijuana Facilities in Eatonville committee, who describe it as “a vice that destroys people and wrecks homes,” calling its potential sale in town “a profound betrayal of community values.”

Those in favor of maintaining the ban have cited marijuana’s potential impact on youth, associated health issues and concerns over public safety as reasons for preventing its sale in Eatonville.

Alternatively, those seeking to lift the ban have focused on its medical benefits, the additional business and tax revenue it could bring in and the fact that its sale and use is already legal statewide.

“I guess that’s kind of a big sticking point with me,” No Ban committee chair Leonard “Len” Throop said. “Why is marijuana so bad but alcohol isn’t? It’s very hypocritical.”

Throop noted Eatonville is home to multiple establishments that serve or sell liquor. 

“There are no medicinal qualities to alcohol whatsoever; the same with tobacco products,” Throop said. “So if those are so bad, why aren’t people up in arms about getting rid of alcohol in this town?”

Supporters and opponents alike have pointed to Eatonville’s mission statement to support their respective cases. 
The statement reads; “The Town’s mission is to create, provide and administer municipal services while protecting the present and future health, safety and general welfare of the community.”

In a recent opinion piece, Citizens Against Marijuana committee member Dennis Clevenger suggested that allowing marijuana sales in town would be a violation of that mission, stating “the job of the Town Council is to be a watchman on the wall to warn those inside the castle of impending danger. Marijuana is a danger to our town!”

His opponents counter that the town’s duty to protect the health and welfare of its citizens is precisely why it should allow marijuana sales, as preventing patients’ easy access to medication would itself be a violation of the mission statement.

“The medical – that is our whole focus,” Walter said. “I’m thinking about people who need it. Make it easier for them to get medication.”

“Suffering of humans is priority,” she added.

The financial aspects of allowing marijuana sales along with increased underage access have been further points of contention. 

“I would hate to think the Town Council's motive is profit from the sale of marijuana instead of its obligation to protect its students from access to a class 1 drug,” Clevenger said.

Throop does not agree.

“I’m not going to argue whether it’s harmful or not for kids, but, as the law states, you must be 21 to even go into a shop,” Throop said.  “Your (identification) is checked at the door. Your ID is again checked at the counter. So it’s checked twice. They make sure kids don’t get it. Are they going to get it out on the street? Not anymore than they are already. It’s not going to increase usage by kids if there’s a shop in town. I’ll argue that all day long.”

Pressed on the possible financial advantages in-town sales could bring to the community and local government, he admitted that in talks with the mayor of Ritzville he was told the tax revenue was “not nearly the amount they thought.”

But he also suggested the tax revenue is only one part of the equation.

“Even if they had a shop and somebody says, ‘Oh, look, I can go buy some marijuana to have for the weekend when I’m up camping,’ maybe they’re going to stop in the Plaza to buy some groceries too,” Throop said. “Maybe they’re going to stop in the Shell station to get gas too. It could help generate business just from that, not even counting what they get from the state.”

Local voters will have the opportunity to decide the issue for themselves on Election Day, which takes place on Nov. 6.  They can also weigh in beforehand if voting by mail, as ballots were mailed out last week.  Although Advisory Vote No. 1 is non-binding, according to Walter, councilmembers have expressed their intention to respect the will of the people.

Additional local measures and races appearing on this year’s ballot include Propositions 1 and 2 for fire and emergency medical services, and election of state representatives for Legislative District 2. At the state level there are four initiatives concerning pollution, grocery taxes, firearms, and law enforcement. There are also races for both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.


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