Vote of the people sought by council on marijuana issue

Councilman Spencer Martin weighs in during the Sunnyside City Council’s discussions on marijuana-related issues last night.

Photo by John Fannin
Councilman Spencer Martin weighs in during the Sunnyside City Council’s discussions on marijuana-related issues last night.

The second time may be a charm…but it might also take a third.

That’s the result of action Monday night by the Sunnyside City Council in asking residents to vote on whether they want elected officials here to allow or ban production, processing and retail sales of marijuana.

The issue will be placed on the Primary Election ballot this August for Sunnyside voters.

By state law it can be an advisory vote only, meaning that council members are not bound to follow the Sunnyside ballot’s outcome.

Washington state voters legalized marijuana in November 2012. Voters in the Lower Valley overwhelmingly rejected the 2012 marijuana initiative.

Sunnyside’s City Council has pretty much been split on the issue ever since.

The city has had for nearly two years a moratorium in place banning applications for marijuana businesses and producers.

Asking Sunnyside residents to vote a second time on the idea is seen by some as a way to break council’s deadlock.

“Having debated this issue for almost two years, this is a way for the voters to give you direction...let’s ask them,” Councilman Jason Raines said last night.

“If this is what it takes…fine,” said Councilman Dean Broersma, who expressed hesitance at sending the issue to Sunnyside voters a second time.

Another voice in favor of taking the issue to the voters again was Councilman Spencer Martin, noting the matter “…is a local issue, not a statewide issue. I can’t see the harm in asking people what they want.”

Mayor Jim Restucci said the public elected council to make a decision on the marijuana issue.

He also cautioned there is legislation in Olympia that might force Sunnyside voters to cast a third ballot on the issue. The proposal would allow cities to ban marijuana sales, processing and production only if their citizens approve a measure imposing the ban.

In other words, Sunnyside voters might have to go the polls about the marijuana issue a third time, in November during the General Election, if the state legislation passes.

Deputy Mayor Theresa Hancock suggested council wait until after the legislature ends its session before moving forward on the ballot measure.

She also said bringing the marijuana issue to voters again is “…kicking the can down the road.”

Councilman Francisco Guerrero was concerned the marijuana vote this August could cost Sunnyside as much as $10,000. “It’s an expense the city doesn’t need at this time,’ he said.

Martin, Broersma, Raines and Councilman Craig Hicks approved having Sunnysiders vote this August about the marijuana issue.

Restucci, Hancock and Guerrero voted no on the matter.

During council discussion about the marijuana ballot, Broersma, Martin and Raines all indicated they will follow the outcome of August’s public vote.

Later, Hicks said he would also adhere to the wishes of the majority of voters on the issue.

Also later, Hancock and Restucci said they would reserve their options on the matter. Restucci noted Sunnyside typically has low voter turnout, so August’s outcome may not be truly representative of the community as a whole.

Guerrero said later he would also reserve opinion on the issue. However, if an overwhelming majority (80 or 90 percent) voted one way or another, then Guerrero said he will take that as a directive.

In other marijuana discussions Monday night, council scrapped prospective marijuana work plans due to possible legal issues.

The work plan options included adopting a temporary business license for one marijuana business, restricting recreational marijuana retail to dried flowers only, ban advertising of recreational marijuana outlets and provide a live-streaming video link from marijuana retail outlets to the police department.

During that discussion, Hancock reminded council about the planning commission’s efforts on the matter.

That commission has in the past recommended approval of marijuana businesses in select areas of town.

“We have never officially discussed or rejected the planning commission’s recommendations,” said Hancock. “We owe it to the planning commission to accept or reject.”


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