Sunnyside leaning toward allowing licensed pot businesses

Sunnyside leaning toward allowing licensed pot businesses
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Local communities continue to decide whether pot will be sold legally in their town. It's a no for Yakima. A yes in Mabton. Now Sunnyside is the largest city in the Lower Valley to tilt toward allowing legal sales of marijuana.

Sunnyside appears poised to bring pot shops to the city. Planning Commissioners gave it a unanimous okay. From here, city leaders will decide. Commissioner Leroy Werkhoven believes legal pot sales could drive down crime.

"I believe that legalizing that trade is better than having a black market," Werkhoven said.

He may be onto something. From January through October, drug arrests in Sunnyside dropped last year by more than 30% - driven, in part, by the new state law allowing possession in small amounts. Werkhoven says it may also be about following the American dream.

"Some of our commissioners believe it is the right of individuals to set up businesses and that the Planning Commission's responsibility is to find a way to enable them to do that within certain restrictions."

One of those individuals owns a health store on Yakima Valley Highway. According to the State Liquor Control Board's website, Vibrant Health applied for a license to sell marijuana legally.

The owner wasn't around to speak with KIMA. But, we did speak with nearby businesses. Their owners were divided on having a pot shop nearby. This man asked that we not show his face.

"I don't have a problem with it. I'm okay with it."

But, just down the road, Grandview's Planning Commission is taking a different approach and has recommended a ban on pot businesses. One Sunnyside neighbor told me that's futile. In his town, pot is not the problem.

"The main thing is meth," said Chase Reiff. "I mean it's all over. There's no stopping it here."

With legal pot, he believes, fewer people would get into trouble trying to get their hands on their drug of choice. And now Sunnyside may be the largest Lower Valley community to give people that right.

Sunnyside City Council has the final say on pot businesses. A vote is expected within the next couple of months.