Richland marijuana initiative is not valid, says city attorney

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TRI-CITY HERALD – CAMERON PROBERT – RICHLAND – A group trying to legalize marijuana sales in Richland says they may take their fight to court after the city’s attorney says their initiative is not valid.

Andrue Ott, the petition chairman for Legalize Richland, plans to press the city council at Tuesday meeting to lift restrictions on marijuana-related businesses.

If that fails, he still wants Richland residents to be allowed to vote on lifting the moratorium on retail sales.

“We have quite a group of dedicated supporters,” Ott said. “I can’t say that we have all of the money in the world, but there are a lot of people that are interested in seeing this through.”

In a letter to the petition leaders, Richland City Attorney Heather Kintzley said she intended to recommend the council reject the petition because it falls outside of the laws governing Washington’s initiative system.

She pointed to a 1980 case in Bremerton where courts nixed an attempt to change zoning rules using an initiative.

“Washington law is well-established on this issue,” Kintzley wrote. “Washington’s general law grants and limits the zoning power to the legislative body of charter cities.”

The letter may explain why a discussion about the petition didn’t make it on the agenda for the Dec. 4 meeting.

Richland officials did not return calls Friday so it’s unclear if the council or city staff plan to address the issue in public.

The petition gave the city council 30 days to vote on reconsidering its ban. Failing that, the question would go to voters on the Feb. 12 ballot.

Legalize Richland, an off-shoot of the Benton County Libertarian Party, collected more than 4,500 signatures calling on the city to lift the restriction.

Those petitions were submitted on Nov. 6, and in a draft letter two weeks later, the city clerk said 2,713 signatures were valid, enough to qualify for consideration.

Ott called the city attorney’s letter the latest in a series of challenges that Legalize Richland has faced from city leaders.

“I think if they had a stronger case they would be making it,” he said. “I think they’re generally of the opinion that they’re better off if they don’t have to deal with us.”

An attorney help them draft the petition before they collected signatures and took it to the city, Ott said. He said he was confident they will win if it goes to court.

He believed the petitions demonstrated enough popular support for the council to act, and it was in the council’s best interest to do so.

“This isn’t about cannabis access. It’s about democracy and that the gears of government should turn for everybody and not just those that are the loudest,” he said.

Washington voters statewide legalized cannabis when they passed Initiative 502 in 2012.

The measure failed in the Mid-Columbia, leading Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, West Richland and Franklin County to pass local bans.

Benton County joined them this year, but only after several retail shops, growing operations and processors opened in unincorporated areas.

Posted by: Cameron Probert, Tri-City Herald, UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 3, 2018, 9:43 a.m.

Picture: Brennan Linsley / Associated Press

The Richland City Council was told recently that supporters appear to have enough signatures to force the city to reconsider its ban on retail marijuana sales but the city attorney says their initiative is not valid.