Despite banning legal pot, Yakima seeks tax money

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Despite banning the sale, growing and processing of legal marijuana, the Yakima City Council is seeking tax money from the state's upcoming pot industry.

The city council voted unanimously Friday to seek state tax revenue raised by businesses in cities that do allow legalized marijuana. Yakima also joined a letter by the Association of Washington Cities asking the state to share recreational marijuana taxes with cities, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

The five council members in attendance agreed with staff that easier access to marijuana statewide could affect local law enforcement.

"I'm prepared to defend cries of hypocrisy from now until whenever," Councilman Dave Ettl said.

The request for state tax revenue is open-ended with regard to whether it would come from state sales taxes or the 25 percent excise tax levied on growers, processors and retailers before sale. More than 80 percent of revenues from the excise tax were supposed to be earmarked for health, prevention and public safety programs under Initiative 502.

Yakima police Chief Dominic Rizzi said marijuana-related traffic offenses take officers more time because they require blood draws. Rizzi said it would be unfair for the state to not share the available revenue with all localities because marijuana-related offenses will increase across Washington.

"It's an unfunded mandate that has funding," Rizzi said.

But city had no specific estimate of how much crime might increase with legal recreational marijuana. There were 360 DUI cases in Yakima in 2013, 72 of which involved blood draws that found 37 individuals under the influence of marijuana and eight under both marijuana and alcohol.

Alison Holcomb, criminal justice director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and author of the initiative, said the law was written to dedicate funds to statewide public health and safety efforts. But she worries local governments are trying to skim some of that money to boost their general funds.

Holcomb said it is hypocritical for cities that banned pot businesses to seek funds generated from those businesses. The Yakima City Council only contributed to the problems law enforcement may face when it voted in January to ban pot businesses, she said. "They're continuing to contribute to the problems of illegal sales and illegal activity, and they should not benefit from continuing to contribute to this problem," Holcomb said.