Port of Benton bans pot-related businesses

Officials concerned about property formally owned by the feds

By Kristi Pihl, October 9, 2014, Tri-City Herald

The Port of Benton has joined the Tri-Cities in banning marijuana-related businesses.


Port of Benton commissioners unanimously approved banning growing, processing and selling pot on any of the port’s properties Wednesday.


Port officials were concerned that allowing marijuana-related businesses to operate on any properties formerly owned by the federal government could cause that property to revert to the federal government.


And quite a few of the Port of Benton’s properties once belonged to the federal government, including the Richland Airport, the Richland Manufacturing Mall, the Richland Innovation Center, the Technology and Business Campus and the port’s railroad.


The port has made substantial investments on the properties to bring them up to the city of Richland’s codes, said Scott Keller, the port’s executive director. That has amounted to millions of dollars over the years.


Marijuana remains federally illegal. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it will not enforce the law to a certain extent. But the federal Bureau of Reclamation has said none of the irrigation water provided through the bureau can be used for marijuana.


Shortly after voters approved Initiative 502, Keller said port officials did have someone inquire about opening a pot business on port properties in Prosser.


Another person asked about opening an indoor grow at the Richland Manufacturing Mall but decided against the rental space because it was multi-tenant.


But Keller said port officials wanted to make sure they had a clear policy set in place about marijuana businesses.


Port of Benton officials also were concerned about impacts to the port’s ability to get federal grants. For example, each year the port tends to receive a federal grant of about $500,000 to pay for specific projects such as pavement maintenance or fencing at the Prosser Airport.


Port of Pasco officials also say federal grants require complying with the federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, which considers marijuana a controlled substance. Federal grants are helping pay for the massive remodel of Pasco’s Tri-Cities Airport terminal. Port of Kennewick and Port of Pasco commissioners have not taken a formal position in I-502.


The Port of Pasco’s properties are within the city of Pasco, which has a ban on recreational marijuana businesses.


The Port of Kennewick has deferred to the cities and Benton County. Richland and Kennewick have banned pot-related businesses. West Richland has a temporary ban and is considering a permanent one.


Benton County does allow marijuana-related businesses where approved by the state Liquor Control Board.


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