Overturning outdated cannabis retailer ban a smart move for cash-strapped Washougal

It has been nearly a decade since Washington citizens voted to legalize recreational cannabis in November 2012. 

In that time, public opinion has continued to shift in favor of legalization, with 9 out of 10 Americans now in favor of some form of cannabis legalization, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey

There is little doubt that legalizing cannabis has led to economic benefits for states like Washington. In 2021 alone, Washington state collected $559.5 million from legal cannabis income and license fees. The bulk of that tax money, $191 million, went into the state’s general fund, which helps pay for K-12 education in Washington, while an additional $272 million went to the state’s basic health fund. Local governments in Washington state that have allowed cannabis retailers, growers and processors to operate in their jurisdictions received $15 million from the cannabis taxes in 2021. 

A 2020 study by the Impact Center School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University studied the economic impact of legalizing cannabis in Washington and found the cannabis sector is the fastest growing segment of the state’s revenues from general and selective sales taxes, totaling $468.81 million in 2020 compared to the $415.28 million in excise tax revenues from the sale of liquor and alcohol in Washington state during the same time period. 

The WSU study also noted the state’s cannabis industry supported nearly 19,000 full-time jobs in 2020 and that “total tax revenues in 2020 stemming from the cannabis sector, including property taxes, sales and excise taxes and corporate and other taxes amounted to $883.38 million.” 

Research has also shown that legalizing cannabis helped bump up property values, with home values in areas where cannabis is legal increasing more than $6,000 between 2017 and 2019, compared to areas where cannabis is still illegal. As one study noted: “the increased revenue drives new investment in things such as public services and infrastructure — which in turn drives higher demand in real estate, higher property values, and greater revenue from property taxes.”

Dig deeper into cannabis research and studies debunk the Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No” era myth that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” According to a February 2017 paper by the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance: “Research simply does not support the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug – that is, one whose use results in an increased likelihood of using ‘more serious’ drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, this flawed gateway effect is one of the principal reasons cited in defense of laws prohibiting the use or possession of marijuana.”

Similarly, the fear that legalizing cannabis would lead to increased use in young people seems to have been just that — a fear. According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed data from 1993 to 2019 in 10 states with legalized cannabis, the legalization policies’ have no impact — “statistically indistinguishable from zero” — on the rate of teenagers who use cannabis. 

In fact, the researchers found that states that had legalized medical marijuana had a 6% decrease in the rates of people currently using cannabis and a 7% decrease in the “odds of frequent marijuana use.” 

Despite the decade’s worth of research — and other cities in Washington state proving that opening recreational cannabis retailers has not had a negative impact on their local areas — the cities of Camas and Washougal continue to ban cannabis retailers from operating in their city limits. 

Washougal officials, however, may be rethinking that policy. The city’s 2022 community survey includes a question that will gauge Washougal residents’ interest in keeping or reconsidering the city’s cannabis retailer/grower/processor ban. 

Even if Washougal were to overturn the ban, the city is only allowed to have one recreational cannabis retailer, so the impact on residents and businesses would likely be minimal. However, the city of Washougal stands to benefit economically from overturning its cannabis retailer (and grower/processor) ban. 

For a city that is struggling with needed infrastructure improvements and that has long tried to figure out a more sustainable way to pay for its share of the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department, overturning an outdated and fear-based cannabis retailer ban seems like a good way of increasing the city’s much-needed revenue sources.