Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he would allow cities and counties to ban the operation of state-run marijuana stores. One legislator warns crime will likely go up in those areas.

State Representative Christopher Hurst is a former detective and narcotics agent with 25 years of experience. He claims cities and counties that ban pot stores will have "crime wars" on their hands over pot trafficking. He represents the 31st District on the west side including Sumner, Bonney Lake and Buckley.

In an op-ed piece in the Bellingham Herald, Hurst argues the following:

The jurisdictions that allow these carefully regulated operations, very similar to the old state-run liquor stores, will see a dramatic drop in sales to juveniles and illegal sales by criminal elements.The criminal organizations cannot and will not try to compete; they will move to locations where there are no I-502 stores, fight it out with other criminal organizations for market share and try to take over each other’s turf. Far from reducing crime, jurisdictions that ban the regulated I-502 stores will be throwing their doors wide open to it."

He also argues that unlike street marijuana, state-run stores will sell "safe" pot.  Hurst says current black market marijuana can contain any one of a number of substances, many of which are potentially harmful. He also claims I-502 was passed by a wide majority of Washington voters -- the "decision has been made." He also makes the case that the pot in stores will be grown, regulated, packaged and sold with information labels as to potency and contents. That is one valid point.

He also claims:

Opposing the will of the voters by imposing bans and moratoriums on state-regulated, taxed and licensed I-502 stores is naive and will only invite the remaining criminal organizations to shift operations to those jurisdictions and fight it out in the streets over market share. That is not what the voters wanted. "

However, Hurst overlooks numerous aspects of the regulated pot. First, black market pot will always be around. The only way you squeeze out competition is by being cheaper. Forbes Magazine last fall reported the drug czar hired by the Liquor Control board was "worried" about how retailers could compete with illegal pot. Based upon projections of markup at that time, street pot in Seattle would be about HALF the cost of what was to be sold in stores.

Second,  Hurst claims the vote was the will of the people. However, like many controversial initiatives, the reason I-502 passed was because it was overwhelmingly favored in the King, Pierce and Tacoma counties that can offset the results of less populated counties.

About 60 percent of voters rejected the bill in some areas including Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Adams, Grant and Lincoln counties.  

Then there's the thorny issue of banks being wary to offer business accounts to the operators of pot stores because pot is still illegal at the federal level! While stories have talked about the government relaxing laws so banks can take drug money, it HAS NOT happened yet. last week ran a fascinating story about how Colorado pot retailers are running into this very problem. Hurst, in his column, completely overlooks that fact that without a bank to deposit the money, pot stores will be like Salvation Army kettles -- brimming with cash, and ripe targets for robbers.

And finally, there's the issue of having the stores too close to schools, parks and other family- or children-oriented facilities. The cities who have approved, or are going to approve, pot stores are finding they have limited areas to due to such codes.

Then there's the "stigma" of the pot store. What will happen when a pot store tries to set up shop in a strip mall, or close to other businesses? Do they want them there? What will a pot store do to the property values of nearby establishments?

These issues we bring up have been at the forefront of the marijuana discussion since I-502 passed. While Hurst makes passionate points about his side of the argument, he overlooks numerous issues that nobody has been able to provide answers for so far.

Map below shows pot voting in Washington state on I-502.  Red areas rejected the vote.


(Newstalk 870 file image)