Washington: Small Town Plans To Run Its Own Marijuana Store By Month's End
By Steve Elliott
The City of North Bonneville, Washington, a community of about a thousand residents on the Columbia River, doesn't appear extraordinary at first glance, but it's unique in one way: It's about to become the first municipality in the state to run its own marijuana store.
The city is just weeks from getting a license to open the store, which local officials said could serve as a model for other cities across the state, reports Bill Conroy at The Narcosphere.
North Bonneville was founded on the timber industry, which is now in steep decline, so it counts on tourism as a major economic force. The city's just 45 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, another state which recently legalized recreational cannabis.
But city leaders said tourism wasn't the driving force behind their decision to open a marijuana store. North Bonneville Mayor Don Stevens said the city wanted to seize control of its own destiny in the evolution of a legal cannabis market that holds great promise, even while pockets of hard-core opposition to pot continue to exist.
“I view [North Bonneville’s approach] as the city being welcoming to the whole idea of recreational marijuana legalization and trying to ensure it’s done as cleanly and professionally and with as much of an eye on the public health and welfare as possible,” Mayor Stevens said. “The financial aspects of it are certainly part of the equation, but they weren’t the primary factor.”
The city is setting up an entity called a Public Development Authority which will own and oversee the cannabis tore, while also shielding the municipality from legal and financial liabilities. But the PDA's board of directors must be approved by the North Bonneville City Council and its charter -- and thus the marijuana store itself -- can be dissolved by the city at any time if local leaders decide that's necessary.
“If someone else had come in and got a license and shortly after started getting busted for selling to teenagers out the back door, or doing anything in violation of the law, our only avenue of correcting that would be to contact law enforcement and have them increase patrols and try to catch people in the act…,” Mayor Stevens said. “Where as with the PDA, if we were to see something going on that we didn’t think was right, we could just put it on the agenda for the next City Council meeting and vote them out of existence, and they’re done.”
About 40 percent of Washington's cities and towns, mostly in rural parts of the state, have instituted bans or moratoriums on legal marijuana shops, despite the 2012 passage of I-502, a statewide referendum legalizing cannabis, by a majority of voters.
“We wanted confidence that we would have a marijuana retail establishment in here that was run by an organization that was really interested in doing the right things for the community,” Mayor Stevens said. “We felt [by setting up a PDA to operate the store] we were taking the bull by the horns instead of just crossing our fingers and hoping we would get a good, reputable business, instead of someone who might be more focused on the bottom line at all costs and might be willing to cut corners and do things that weren’t appropriate.”
“As far we know, we are currently the only PDA created and organized to run a recreational cannabis store,” Stevens said, “and we see lot pressure to do it right and make it be successful and start the ball rolling for everyone. I think there is really a good chance that you’re going to see more cities try and do this in the future because it just makes sense on so many different levels.”
John Spencer, a consultant to the city-sponsored North Bonneville PDA, said the Washington State Liquor Control Board is expected to issue a license for the PDA’s recreational cannabis store before the end of the month, assuming the property gets an okay from the LCB inspectors scheduled to visit the site any time now.
Brian Smith, spokesman for the LCB, confirmed that the North Bonneville cannabis store is near the end of the licensing process and “is the closest one [in the county] to getting a license.” North Bonneville is located along Washington’s southern border in Skamania County, which is authorized under I-502 rules to receive two retail marijuana licenses.
Smith confirmed that North Bonneville’s approach to the marijuana market is one of a kind, adding that once the license is issued the city would be home to the first municipally operated pot store in the state.
Photo of North Bonneville Mayor Don Stevens: The Columbian