Marijuana Vote May Have No Impact

When the April 26 advisory vote results for Proposition 1 were tallied, it appeared that voters in unincorporated Pierce County had a change of heart and no longer approved of the sale or processing of recreational marijuana. But at the precinct level, voters in the two areas where recreational shops will be allowed supported them.

According to data analysts hired by Pierce County Councilman Derek Young’s office (D-District 7), the April advisory vote had a 30 percent turnout, with 48 percent in favor and 52 percent against allowing licensed sales and production of marijuana in unincorporated Pierce County.

On the Key Peninsula, however, the vote was in favor of allowing such sales, with 61 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed. The margin in favor increased on the KP in the most recent vote. In 2012, 57 percent voted yes.

Young said it is very unlikely the council will reverse its vote approving the ordinance allowing marijuana sales that it passed Dec. 15, 2015.

In December, as the state clarified rules and regulations concerning the sale and processing of all marijuana, including both medicinal and recreational, the council approved an ordinance to allow sales in designated rural activity centers, like Key Center, as long as the stores were at least 1,000 feet from parks, libraries and schools. Only two districts in unincorporated Pierce County would allow stores: District 7, including the Key Peninsula; and District 6, a more urban area including Parkland.

Councilwoman Joyce McDonald (R-District 2) then proposed the advisory vote, suggesting the public should once again weigh in. She expressed this sentiment in a January statement: “Because I have promised to make Pierce County a better place to live, work and raise a family, I will not support any efforts to legalize the production, processing and retail sales of this highly destructive, addictive drug.”

Young said that when he worked with data analysts, they predicted that the advisory vote would overwhelmingly be opposed to sales. “We expected the 30 percent voter turnout, and because of the absence of young voters, we actually predicted that the vote would be about 40 percent in favor of sales and 60 percent against. We were surprised to see the margin as close as it was. It’s possible that support for regulated, licensed legal sales has actually increased,” he said.

Young also noted that the campaign to ban recreational marijuana claimed that sales would be allowed in residential neighborhoods, which is false.

Young said he thinks the original ordinance will stand. It would take four votes to reverse and he said the three Democrats are in favor of allowing sales. Republican Councilman Doug Richardson, who could be a swing vote, is from District 6, the other area where sales would be allowed. Those precincts also voted to approve sales. “I don’t think he will make a decision that is counter to the wish of his voters,” Young said.

Clint Pipkin, co-owner of the medical marijuana dispensary shop Herb N Wellness in Key Center, awaits the final decision. His store was threatened with closure because it was thought to be too close to the Key Center Library. When the distance was re-measured, the store was found to be the required 1,000 feet away.

Medical marijuana dispensaries will no longer be allowed to operate under state law as of July 1. Pipkin has applied for a license to sell recreational marijuana and a conditional use permit, and hopes to be open for business after the ordinance allowing retail sale goes into effect on that date.

The production, sale and possession of marijuana remain illegal under federal law.

Confused? Here are some highlights of marijuana legalization in Washington:

1998: Initiative 692 passed with 59 percent of the vote, decriminalizing medical use of marijuana by qualifying patients in Washington state. Medicinal dispensaries, largely unregulated, opened in various locations.

2012: Initiative 502 passed with 55 percent of the vote, with a voter turnout of 79 percent. Recreational use was decriminalized statewide and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (formerly the Liquor Control Board) was tasked with implementation.

2014: First recreational marijuana store opened. Pierce County Council requires sellers to prove that the sale of marijuana is not a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substance Act in order to get a conditional use permit, essentially a de facto ban.

April 2015: Washington State Senate Bill 5052 became law, requiring all dispensaries to be state licensed by July 2016.

December 2015: Pierce County Council passed an ordinance allowing licensed sale and production of recreational marijuana. At the same meeting, the council authorized an advisory vote election regarding continued sale and processing of marijuana in specified zones in unincorporated Pierce County.

April 2016: Nonbinding Advisory Vote on Proposition 1, which would have allowed sale and processing in approved zones, did not pass, with only 48 percent in favor. Voter turnout is 30 percent. On the Key Peninsula, 61 percent voted in favor.

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