Washington Libertarians lead effort to get retail pot referendum onto ballot

Ryan Cooper, chair of LP Benton County in Washington, in an interview with the Tri-City Herald in November 2018.

Ryan Cooper, chair of LP Benton County in Washington, in an interview with the Tri-City Herald in November 2018.

A Libertarian Party affiliate may soon be able to take credit for legalization of retail recreational cannabis shops in the city of Richland, Wash. The Benton County LP, led by Chair Ryan Cooper, created an organization called Legalize Richland and has spearheaded a petition drive to require the city council to consider repealing the ban or to put the matter to a vote of the people.

From an article in the Tri-City Herald (“Voters force Richland council to reconsider legalizing marijuana shops” by Cameron Probert, Nov. 22):

A citizen-led effort to force Richland to allow recreational marijuana stores is likely headed to the city council in 10 days.

This week council members were told that it appears enough signatures on a petition are valid, requiring the city to reconsider its ban or allow the public to vote on the issue.

A draft certificate showed Legalize Richland, an offshoot of the Benton County Libertarian Party, collected 2,713 valid signatures — nearly 80 more than it needed for a referendum on the city’s pot ban.

Supporters needed 2,634 valid names — or 20 percent of the nearly 13,200 votes cast at the last regular general election in 2017. They turned in 4,500 signatures.

City Manager Cindy Reents told the council during Tuesday’s regular meeting that the city staff expects to finalize the certificate soon, then the petition will be reviewed by the city attorney before it goes to the council.

Once the signatures are confirmed valid, the council has 30 days to act on the petition. If it doesn’t, the issue will be put on the Feb. 12 ballot.

Legalize Richland Treasurer Ryan Cooper called it a victory.

“If you were to poll the community, I believe a majority of people wouldn’t care if marijuana was legal,” said Cooper. “There are going to be lots of people at the (Dec. 4) meeting. It’s probably going to be a council meeting for the ages.”

The group submitted the 300 pages of signatures and the petition to the city clerk on Nov. 6, after a growing frustration with needing to drive to Finley or Prosser where there are recreational marijuana stores.

The Richland ban has prevented three marijuana retailers with licenses from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board from opening in the city — two at Queensgate near Keene and one near the Horn Rapids Industrial Park. The ban prevents them from getting a business license.

Richland joined most Benton and Franklin county cities in enacting local bans on marijuana retailers after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012. The initiative put the state liquor board in charge of making rules regulating the sale of recreational marijuana.

Voters in Eastern Washington soundly rejected the proposal, which led to Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, West Richland and Franklin County stopping any dispensaries from opening up.

Richland Mayor Bob Thompson previously said the council would discuss the petition if it received enough citizen support. He opposed the original pot shop ban in 2014, along with now-former Mayor David Rose.

Cooper said the tide nationally about marijuana is shifting. He pointed to the passage of a medical marijuana proposition in Utah.

Read the full Tri-City Herald article.

Learn more about the Libertarian Party of Washington or attend one of its upcoming events.