An Eastern Washington cannabis retailer believes his business would boost Pasco’s downtown revitalization plan.
And he hopes city leaders will rethink their ban on marijuana-related businesses in city limits.
David Morgan, a Pasco native and co-owner of Lucky Leaf Co. dispensary in Spokane, recently gave his pitch to the city council.
He’s hoping to open a second location in a building in downtown Pasco, at 402 W. Lewis Street. But in order to do that, the city would first have to approve changes to its zoning to allow retailers in the downtown zone.
Since 2014, Pasco has banned land uses related to “marijuana production, processing, retail sales and/or collective gardens or dispensaries,” according to city code. The prohibition is citywide.
Morgan is suggesting changes to the city’s code to allow retail in the city’s “C-2 Central Business Zone,” which is six blocks of downtown Pasco.
He said having Lucky Leaf Co. shop #2 in Pasco could increase shoppers and downtown spending, attract other small businesses nearby, reduce homelessness, as well as provide an additional revenue source for Pasco. Morgan said he’s seen that happen in Spokane.
“After seeing what cannabis has done for this area of downtown Spokane, our vision for downtown Pasco is quite the same,” he told the council.
For several years now, downtown Pasco has struggled with safety concerns, flashes of crime, a lack of economic growth and people living in the area without housing. The city is currently engaged in a revitalization plan to rectify its issues downtown in an effort to draw project dollars and attention to the area.
Morgan estimates there are about 45 stores in the greater Spokane area, as well as more than 200 growers.
Pasco council members questioned Morgan extensively on the operations of cannabis retail during a recent meeting.
“We’ve had a 100% turnover on council since our previous ban on retail sales passed, and I certainly think we owe the community a vote on this. Now, that could be a positive or negative vote,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Craig Maloney. His district of it encompasses the downtown area.
“We’re certainly not ready to do that just yet, but I’m certainly interested in understanding more and hearing more from the community and make sure we fully understand the implications of whatever decision we may make,” he continued.
Maloney said the city has some areas zoned light- and medium-industrial that may make for a better retail location.
Morgan said any concerns about limited parking downtown could be eased by using the Bank of America lot across the street and parking spots under construction at the nearby Thunderbird Motel property.
pasco recently spent $1.2 million to buy and tear down the troubled motel and expects to expand parking for the recently renovated Peanuts Park and Farmers Market across the street.
Marijuana sales ban
Pasco’s ban on marijuana-related businesses went into effect July 2014 — almost two years after Washington state voters passed Initiative 502, which decriminalized marijuana possession and recreational use.
However, voters in Benton and Franklin counties overwhelmingly rejected I-502.
“We know that the community’s changed in that time,” said Councilman Pete Serrano, who encourages citizens to share their thoughts on the issue.
The seven-person council could do one of three things: Either vote to lift the moratorium by creating zoning for cannabis retail; kick the decision out to voters during an election, which would likely be sometime next year; or do nothing.
Downtown businesses divided
Some in the community remain concerned about the idea of allowing cannabis retailers downtown.
In a letter sent to the council, Leo Perales said the Pasco Latin Business Association (LBA) voiced opposition to a zoning change allowing cannabis stores downtown.
“We believe that it may have a place in the outer commercial areas, but as many of our members stated, we want the downtown to be ‘family friendly’ and a ‘destination’ for commerce,” Perales wrote in an email statement.
The business group is collecting signatures on a petition against the downtown proposal. About 84 have signed on so far.
Perales stressed that the group isn’t anti-cannabis, just “against it being in downtown.”
But Thomas Granbois, a board member with the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, said at the meeting that about 53 businesses in and around downtown have signed on to support Morgan’s proposal.
“It’s not a boogeyman. It’s been tested in multiple, multiple cities. And I think we can go forward and really drive some economic development in the downtown through private industry,” he said.
Perales has refuted Granbois’ polling of business owners, saying that many on the list are managers or workers.
But he also acknowledges that the issue is “50/50 split” for and against.
Previous sticking points
Morgan has been trying to open a pot shop here for about a decade.
In 2015, the city forced him to close down a dispensary he opened illegally in East Pasco, despite having his license from Washington state.
Back then, he pointed to a change in the law allowing cities to collect some of the 37% sales tax as a reason he could open the store. The city, he then argued, had a moratorium in place specifically because they previously couldn’t collect the sales taxes.
Then, in 2019, Pasco faced pressure again to lift its ban. Morgan and another retail owner lobbied the council and pitched their case to ease the zoning requirements.
But the issue was never a priority for the city council, and their reaction was subdued.
Marijuana in Tri-Cities
Aside from Prosser, all cities in Benton and Franklin counties have bans in place on cannabis retail.
Franklin County remains one of seven counties that has not collected any revenue from cannabis retail sales in recent years, according to numbers posted on the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s website.
Benton County collected about $295,000 in local excise taxes from recreational marijuana sales last year.
There are only two dispensaries in the Tri-Cities area: Nirvana Cannabis Company and Green2Go.
Both are within unincorporated Benton County. Nirvana is just outside the West Richland city limits and Green2Go is in Finley, just outside of Kennewick.
Prosser has Altitude on Merlot Drove and the city collected about $15,000 last year. It’s other dispensary, The Bake Shop, located along Griffin Road, is in unincorporated Benton County.
Benton City collects about $4,000 in pot taxes from a small outlet there.