Washington Town Opens Government-Run Dispensary

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In a down economy, it can be hard for cities and municipalities to find money. For small towns, local officials often have to get creative to generate income; and no small town knows that better than the sleepy riverside community of North Bonneville, Washington. Facing financial ruin, the local government opened up the very first government-operated cannabis dispensary on March 7, 2015.

The dispensary, dubbed The Cannabis Corner, represents hope for the failing town of 1,000 residents. North Bonneville suffered greatly from the collapse of the timber industry in the 1990s, and has never quite recovered.

“The city is on its knees financially,” former city administrator John Spencer told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “They have no retail sector here and in Washington State you’re dependent on a retail sector because of the sales tax.” However, Spencer says The Cannabis Corner could turn things around.

To make The Cannabis Corner a reality, city officials had to create the North Bonneville Public Development Authority. This is a common practice among governments that want to dabble in the private sector, kind of like a municipal corporation. Countries, like Brazil, have also done this with their utility companies, only on a much grander scale and with far more complexity.

City officials sought out private investors to front the initial $228,000 to build the business, which left tax payers in the free and clear. Since The Cannabis Corner is municipally operated, all of the profits go back to the city in the form of a grant. This money will go to help water parks, pay police and keep the lights on.

One of the problems facing other recreational dispensaries in Washington is the high cost. Medical and black market cannabis is a lot cheaper, so many consumers avoid retail stores. However, because The Cannabis Corner will not have to pay federal taxes as a municipal corporation, that means that consumers will get to enjoy high quality cannabis at a low cost.

Speaking with Reuters, The Cannabis Corner’s General Manager Robyn Legun said she hopes the store will help augment the town’s small tourism industry. “We hope to get a lot of folks from all over the place coming into the store and stopping by to visit.” Since the collapse of the timber industry, visitors have come to North Bonneville for hiking, camping and kayaking, all of which are activities that can be safely enjoyed while high.

Often legalization advocates tout tax revenue as a reason to legalize cannabis, but it appears that North Bonneville has found an even stronger argument. More failing towns could adopt the municipal dispensary method and see black for the first time. After all, with people making millions of dollars off of the cannabis industry, why shouldn’t small town U.S.A. get a piece of the action as well?

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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