The Pasco City Council voted 4-3 Monday in favor of zoning changes that lift its ban on retail cannabis sales, becoming the first city government in the Tri-Cities to do so.
The vote marks the end of a decade-long struggle by local marijuana activists and business owners to ease government restrictions in the city of 80,000.
Mayor Blanche Barajas, Mayor Pro Tem Craig Maloney and Council members Joseph Campos and Zahra Roach voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilmen Pete Serrano, Irving Brown and David Milne voted against it.
There was little discussion in the lead up to the vote, with several saying they were ready to have the decision done and over with.
“Council is relieved to put this behind us and we’ll let the public determine how feasible these businesses are. If the public determines they don’t want to patronize and these businesses struggle, then that’s not council’s responsibility,” Campos said.
The ordinance lifts the ban in three commercial zones (C-1, C-2 and C-3) and three industrial zones (I-1, I-2 and I-3) found throughout the city, and opens up business to certain areas along North Road 68, Kings Corner, Broadmoor Boulevard, East Lewis Street and Court Street.
It will take effect five days after approval, pending any publication requirements.
A six-block buffer reduction area — between Columbia and Clark streets, and between 2nd and 5th avenues — created in recent weeks will also allow one property owner to lease his building out to a cannabis entrepreneur downtown.
Three businesses are already lining up to open stores when the ordinance goes into effect.
But there also are a number of restrictions for cannabis retailers looking to open in the area.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has limited Pasco to just four retail licenses based on the city’s population, with one of those required to be held by a “social equity licensee.”
And cannabis stores cannot open within a 1,000-foot buffer of a school, playground, recreational center, child care center, public park, public transit center, library or all-ages game arcade.
Steve Lee, co-owner of Green2Go in Finley, previously told the Tri-City Herald that these restrictions have made finding retail space within Pasco city limits really difficult. Cannabis retail remains banned in unincorporated Franklin County.
Pot production, processing and cooperatives also will remain illegal under the passed ordinance.
“It was very important to close it, to just be done with it,” said Brown, who changed his vote last minute from a “yay” to a “nay.”
Brown told the Herald that the process of addressing retail cannabis over the past 10 months has lacked transparency. At times, it’s left him and other city council members confused over what aspects of the topic they were making decisions on.
Brown previously supported an ordinance that would have lifted the ban in industrial zones only — which the mayor later requested to rescind — and he voted in favor of a failed measure that would have put the decision up to the voters.
He said he would have voted for Monday night’s ordinance if it didn’t include the downtown buffer reductions.
Retail cannabis could provide a decent revenue source to the city of Pasco. Initial estimates show the city could receive at least $200,000 annually through a per capita distribution from the state’s 37% excise tax. That would not include any additional revenue that may be raised from local sales.
Washington voters passed Initiative 502 more than a decade ago to legalize and comprehensively regulate the production, possession and retail of cannabis statewide. Today, Washingtonians must be 21 or older to buy recreational pot.
While the initiative passed with 55% statewide approval, 61% of voters in Franklin County were opposed to it. But opinions have shifted over time.
A 2021 community survey showed that 46% of Pasco residents would not back changes to allow marijuana retail sales in city limits, while about 45% said they would strongly or somewhat support it.