Last night the Maple Valley Planning Commission came forward to Council with their recommendation around Recreational Marijuana stores in Maple Valley. You can read the recommendation starting on page 37 here. The Planning Commission did a commendable job on putting together this recommendation, some going against personal feelings on the issue, voting 7-0 to move the recommendation to council. I commend the Planning Commission for this work and thank them for the multiple public hearings and listening to both sides of the story.
There was a lot of discussion at the Planning Commission public hearings and even last night around prohibition of marijuana in general and the concept of just because voters approved I-502 they did not approve stores. This is a “not in my backyard” approach and is technically true as the initiative did specifically state there will be a store in your city. That point has been litigated and Peirce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper issued a ruling in September of 2014 stating that a city can prohibit stores in their city. So, we should accept that the city can regulate the number of stores in the city.
When Council discussed the recommendation last night they also listened to the testimony given in the public hearings and voted 6-1 against taking the recommendation, solely stuck on one point. The sticking point was around only having a single store in the city. There were multiple reasons for this decision but mostly stems around the fact that the city should not legislatively create a monopoly and allow the free market to determine if a second store was viable. The Council has asked the city staff to return to them with two drafts of legislation on this issue. One draft will contain capping stores at 2, while the other one will leave the number of stores open to the Liquor Control Board.
There was one vote against was based on a Washington Traffic Safety Commission study showing that marijuana is prevalent in deadly crashes on Washington streets. The study went from 2010 to 2014 with nearly 60% of drivers involved in fatal collisions where tested for drugs. Approximately 20% of these drivers were positive for marijuana. These are concerning figures and ones to take seriously, we must find methods to reduce traffic fatalities as a whole.
I want to say that I think Council did a good job on this issue and were put in a tough spot, they had to look at business impact, social impact of having stores, legal liability and risk for the actions they take, and more. They weighed all sides and voted 6-1. I applaud all members for working to come to a conclusion on this.
My personal take is simple and I believe the Council came to the right decision. My thoughts around this weigh with a couple of points.
1. It is not the councils position to determine if a business will be successful in Maple Valley. This does have some caveats. For example, if Maple Valley is incentivizing the business to come into the town by providing tax breaks.
2. With the above stance, capping the stores to 1 provides a city mandated monopoly to whatever store is currently open. This is bad for consumers and allows the business to act how it chooses because we cannot vote with our wallets unless we decide to leave town to do so.
We do need to look into what can be done to reduce traffic fatalities and teen usage of marijuana, however, that answer cannot be prohibition. We should learn from past prohibition efforts, that prohibition is economically unsound, targets minorities, and clogs up systems that are already overburdened. In September of 2015 the ACLU of Washington estimated that Washington spent approximately $1000 per resident of the state for marijuana enforcement, including law enforcement, prosecutors, legal aid, and judges. With around 90% of arrests for marijuana being simple possession this over burdens the court systems with simple non-violent, victimless crimes. By flushing that out of the system the court and law enforcement can pay more attention to helping victims of crimes, while saving significant tax payer money.
While this is a city level discussion it would be remiss for me to not mention I believe the federal laws around marijuana being a schedule 1 drug is long overdue for reversal. It is incredibly expensive as a country, it is blocking medical breakthroughs on treatments, it is preventing facts from coming out due to not being allowed to study it, and overall targets minorities for enforcement actions. Simple statistic minorities are 4x more likely to be arrested for possession than whites, yet rate of usage is about the same.
To combat traffic fatalities and teen usage, I propose we adopt something as a city similar to what the state did, spend a portion of the tax revenue generated from I-502 on public health programs and substance abuse prevention efforts in the city of Maple Valley.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this and what we as a community can do.