Richland looking for direction on recreational pot

Richland looking for direction on recreational pot »Play Video
RICHLAND, Wash. -- Richland city officials are looking at their options for recreational marijuana. At a council study session on Tuesday night, the council learned another moratorium is inevitable, but that doesn't mean recreational marijuana is up in smoke. The council will still have to make a decision - and don't expect it to be unanimous.

“I think the fact the state of Washington did pass it is a joke,” said Richland Councilman Brad Anderson. “I think it's an embarrassment, it's a federal offense."

No decisions were made Tuesday night, but if a vote was called, Brad Anderson wouldn't support recreational marijuana in Richland. “I want nothing to do with it. I will never vote for it to be in this city."

The problem is Richland needs to decide what to vote for. Options on the table include another moratorium, waiting for the legislature or moving forward with zoning. It's the same for all the Tri-Cities: doing nothing is no longer a viable option.

“If I was forced to vote today, I think it would be disingenuous to myself not to support the people who voted the law into effect," said Councilman Robert Thompson.

Thompson’s opinion is shared by the mayor too.

“The majority of voters in the state of Washington went through the process and got a law passed. I feel as elected officials it's our duty to see that law played out," said Mayor David Rose.

But a majority of Benton County voters said no on Initiative 502 - 56% to be exact - and it's that majority some council members are grappling with.

“Citizens of Richland determine how I vote, not the state," said Councilman Phil Lemley.

The state isn't giving much direction, at least not yet. Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced last month cities can opt out. It was perceived as a golden ticket, but it's only an opinion - not law. Richland's city attorney told the council it's one that would most likely go to court and leave cities high and dry.

“It's an advisory opinion, like our attorney said,” said Thompson. “You can go down this road, but it's worth the paper it's written on."

The bottom line is Richland is running out of time.

“We could not give you a final ordinance and get two readings in with the time left,” said a city zoning official to the council. “Some extension would be necessary."

The city's moratorium runs out in April. Council member Sandra Kent was also on the side of continuing with zoning, while waiting to see if the legislature hands down more guidelines. She also stated she wants to set up a meeting for public input, saying some people might be on the fence right now, but have very strong opinions when they find out where pot stores could be permitted.