By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
Lynnwood city councilmembers are reviewing possible revisions to a long-standing string of moratoriums on marijuana business activity within city limits.
During a Thursday, November 18 work session, the councilmembers observed a presentation by Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies, a governmental affairs firm representing cannabis retailers within Snohomish County that reached out to the city earlier this year to explore the possibility of initiating a discussion on lifting the current ban. Councilmember George Hurst invited them back, asking that they briefly discuss the topic with the council.
Addressing the council, councilmember Hurst says that they need to look at marijuana retailers as businesses who will contribute to the Lynnwood community, adding he would be glad to see them able to work within city limits
“Times are changing, and the cannabis industry has changed and has really grown into an everyday business,” said Hurst. “They are businesspeople… these are local owners and they wish to come into the woods and be able to be a vibrant business within our community… let’s not let the past dictate our future.”
The maximum number of marijuana licenses allowed authorization within a city is determined by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, which has set Lynnwood’s at four.
During a September 14 council meeting, Hurst mentioned that two potential cannabis licensees have been anticipating if and when they can initiate business within the city and that they should have been allowed to for the past five years.
Marijuana production and sales were first banned within Lynnwood in 2014 after a public hearing influenced the adoption of a temporary six-month ordinance. Four more six-month extensions then followed suit between 2014-15.
In June of 2015, the then-council passed an ordinance prohibiting the retail sale, production, and processing of marijuana and marijuana-infused products, as well as medical marijuana collective gardens. Four years later, in 2019, zoning regulations were amended to prohibit these activities within the Lynnwood City Center.
Councilmembers Christine Frizzell and Shannon Sessions spoke hesitantly about the possibility of reversing the moratorium, explaining that they didn’t feel as though they were presented with new information from what was introduced years ago.
“I think we need more conversation,” said Frizzell. “We just need to remember why council came to the decision that they did… and see if there really is a big reason to say yes…we’re not alone, we’re not the only ones out there that say no, we don’t want a marijuana store.
Councilmember Ruth Ross, who was also on council during the original moratorium, said she didn’t then and still doesn’t pose opposition to marijuana retailers within the city.
“I don’t think the vast majority of people in Lynnwood care either,” she stated. “It’s not an issue to me.”
In Washington state, 30% or 82 cities — prohibit marijuana retailers. There are 16 cannabis retailers within six miles of city hall, noted Frizzell.
New marijuana retail revenue partnerships provide several key economic benefits to the local economy, said Josh Estes, a managing partner of Pacific Northwest Regional strategies.
One such economic benefit cited is the collection of tax revenue from retail sales. This revenue is collected by the state, with a portion then redistributed back to the cities and counties that do not prevent cannabis stores. The amount given back to each city and county is calculated, determined based on a combination of population and retail sales. Then 50% is given to the city and 50% is given to the county. The annual distribution for neighboring cities with similar populations ranges from $65,000 in Mount Vernon, $71,000 in Edmonds, $77,000 in Issaquah, and $91,000 in Longview.
“I think it’s a little disingenuous to say that it’s going to bring us a lot of money when we’re not sure yet how much that would be,” said Sessions. “And then it also depends on how many stores, would decide as well.”
On October 14, the Everett City Council approved the revision of a city ordinance, limiting the number of retail marijuana shops allowed in the city. The decision added three additional cannabis stores within city limits, increasing the number of retail stores from five to eight. The Liquor and Cannabis Board set the maximum number of marijuana licenses in Everett to 10, but local governments have the authority to impose stricter limits.
Early on with their work in the city of Everett, Estes says they struggled with getting the public and the Everett City Council comfortable with understanding the impact marijuana production and retail has on a city’s crime and calls for service. In response, the Everett council approached their public safety subcommittee, and through a series of public safety meetings with the Liquor Control Board and the Everett Police Department’s crime analysis unit, they found that cannabis-related calls for service were reduced when compared to other types of 21+ establishment.
“Number one is getting the council and the community to understand that these stores are regular businesses and they don’t have a disproportionate effect on crime,” said Estes.
Councilmember Sessions responded saying that she has yet to see definite proof that cannabis establishments have lower burglaries across jurisdictions.
“I still haven’t seen proof that they do not bring more crime in the city,” said Sessions. “I know you mentioned that stats in Everett but that tells me that they are better than some other establishments which to me isn’t really the best answer. That’s not the answer I want to hear.”
Councilmember Ian Cotton mentioned his participation in the initiation of the moratorium, explaining it was largely in response to the unknowns associated early on with the inception of the industry inside of cities.
“I think a lot of those unknowns have become knowns and they’ve become quantifiable,” said Cotton. “I think further discussion amongst councils is necessary. If the discussion is continued, Thursday’s presentation will be the first of several planned conversations into allowing marijuana retail into the city. Moving the conversation forward, the council will establish a draft ordinance to allow retail marijuana in city limits, not to exceed the number allocated to the city by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. A council discussion and public hearing period will commence, followed by possible council action.