Don’t shut out the pub­lic, Rich­land. Give them chance to be heard on pot

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY TRI-CITY HER­ALD ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Con­tro­ver­sial is­sues need more dis­cus­sions in pub­lic, not less. A group called Le­gal­ize Rich­land has found a way to force the city to re­con­sider its ban on mar­i­juana re­tail sales and pro­duc­tion, and this is sure to be a hot topic in the com­mu­nity.

We were un­der the im­pres­sion the group’s pe­ti­tion would be pre­sented to the Rich­land City Coun­cil at its Tues­day meet­ing, but as of Fri­day the is­sue was not on the agenda. As it turns out, the city at­tor­ney is rec­om­mend­ing the pe­ti­tion is not valid to move for­ward.

It would have been help­ful for the pub­lic to know this as soon as she re­sponded to the pe­ti­tion spon­sors on Nov. 21.

The city coun­cil dis­cussed the pe­ti­tion at its Nov. 20 pre-meet­ing work­shop that’s not recorded for the pub­lic. The pub­lic should have been in­formed about the dis­cus­sion ahead of time.

Sup­port­ers still hope to have their chance to speak to the coun­cil on the is­sue.

Res­i­dents on both sides surely will want to hear the thoughts of their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

As we all know, our state’s vot­ers ap­proved le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in 2012. But as is the case much of the time in our lop­sided state, Eastern Wash­ing­ton vot­ers largely op­posed the ini­tia­tive, but the west side car­ried the vote to ap­proval all the same.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments have strug­gled with how to man­age the mar­i­juana in­dus­try and the voice of their vot­ers, most plac­ing bans on re­tail busi­nesses and pro­duc­tion.

The state con­tin­ues to ap­prove li­censes for area en­trepreneurs, but cities and coun­ties in many ju­ris­dic­tions refuse to is­sue them busi­ness li­censes.

Le­gal­ize Rich­land used the city’s own law on it­self.

In an un­com­mon twist, vot­ers in the city can al­ter laws through ref­er­en­dums. Those push­ing to over­turn the mar­i­juana ban found the path and seized it, gath­er­ing more than enough valid sig­na­tures to re­quire the coun­cil to con­sider their pe­ti­tion.

Rich­land res­i­dents who sup­port lift­ing the ban say they shouldn’t be forced to drive to Fin­ley or Prosser to get a prod­uct that is le­gal to buy and use in the state. Those com­mu­ni­ties have le­gally op­er­at­ing mar­i­juana re­tail­ers who got their busi­nesses up and run­ning be­fore retroac­tive bans on ad­di­tional busi­nesses were in place.

While le­gal­ized mar­i­juana seemed scary to many in our com­mu­nity based on their vote on the ini­tia­tive, in gen­eral it seems that at­ti­tude is loos­en­ing.

We’ve had a hand­ful of mar­i­juana busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in the re­gion for years with­out much drama once they opened. Some is­sues with pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties and odors dur­ing har­vest have been the worst of it.

Three busi­nesses in Rich­land have state-ap­proved li­censes but can’t open be­cause of the city’s ban. But that could change if the coun­cil chooses to lift the ban. If pe­ti­tion had been deemed valid it could have gone to a pub­lic vote Feb. 12 if the coun­cil didn’t act.

Coun­cil mem­bers are elected to make tough de­ci­sions. In Rich­land, the ex­ist­ing ban was ap­proved by a 3-2 vote. The mayor was against the ban as was another coun­cil­man; the three who voted against it re­main on the coun­cil, and the po­si­tion of two new mem­bers is not clear.

We’re al­ways fans of let­ting the vot­ers de­cide for them­selves on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues.

It’s clear that 20 per­cent of vot­ers from the prior elec­tion – the re­quired amount for the pe­ti­tion to move for­ward – want to see a change.

While that’s a mi­nor­ity, they did their home­work, fol­lowed the rules and de­serve to be heard.

What re­mains to be seen is if the coun­cil or the vot­ers will have the fi­nal say on this chal­leng­ing com­mu­nity is­sue.

Rich­land City Coun­cil mem­bers should em­brace the high in­ter­est and en­sure there is plenty of time for pub­lic dis­cus­sion.

Af­ter all, trans­parency and the de­sire to hear peo­ple out on is­sues such as the Du­por­tail Bridge were key com­plaints dur­ing the last elec­tion for coun­cil po­si­tions.

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