A number of cities and counties in Washington State have struggled with or completely ignored the reality of legalized marijuana. Whether by banning cannabis completely or by initiating a constant stream of moratoria, over sixty cities and counties in Washington have opted to prevent legalized marijuana businesses from setting up within their borders. Some of these cities are now facing lawsuits over their bans.
On the other hand, some Washington cities and counties have enacted their own local rules for cannabis, mostly via zoning ordinances, nuisance regulations, or land use requirements. Mason County has taken its own unique approach: Pay to play for electricity to marijuana businesses.
Last week, Mason County’s public utility district set a special classification and more expensive electricity rate for marijuana growers and processors. As per Energy Newsfeed:
The Mason County Public Utility District 3 commission approved a new price schedule for its electricity customers in November that included a special classification for marijuana growers and processors. The rate falls between that of small businesses and large commercial users. It includes a demand charge that reflects the peak capacity needs of the facilities.
According to the district, the classification will protect marijuana businesses if federal regulations change, and ensure the companies’ power needs are met.
I’m a little mystified about how increasing power costs for marijuana businesses will protect those businesses “if federal regulations change.” Maybe the county meant to say that, because it will be supplying the power, increasing rates will ensure a steady supply? This might actually make a bit of sense and it even ties in with federal prohibition. Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation talked about turning off the federal water spigot for Washington marijuana growers and that made county power boards nervous about federally-regulated electricity. Mason County buys and distributes wholesale electricity from Bonneville Power Authority, which is a federal agency. Bonneville has not offered clear direction on whether counties and municipalities should be re-selling its wholesale electricity to federally-illegal (but state-sanctioned) marijuana companies.
One of the county power managers, Annette Creekpaum, was quoted as saying that “the district will supply Bonneville power to growers for now, but there is possibility that source could be eliminated in the future. By creating a special class for marijuana businesses, the district can shift them to other power sources if needed, without affecting other customers.” Manager Creekpaum also correctly pointed out that federal politics could leave Washington cannabis farmers hanging and that the county would like to set up a system to avoid that.
We get that the county may need to increase costs so as to be able to independently provide power to marijuana growers and processors and maybe marijuana businesses should be directing their frustration at the feds, not the county. It is federal prohibition that continues to increase the costs of doing business for state-legal marijuana businesses, whether it’s taxes, obtaining a bank account, coping with numerous state regulations, and now, even the power marijuana businesses need to operate. All the more reason why we all must relentlessly keep pushing the federal government to legalize.