Can Legal Weed Save This Small, Pot-Friendly City You’ve Never Heard Of?
There wasn’t much to say about North Bonneville, Washington, a small bedroom community nestled in the Columbia River Gorge just north of the Oregon border, before March 7. That day, the city opened what became known as the country’s first government-owned marijuana store, the Cannabis Corner, a city-sponsored pot shop selling state-sanctioned weed with names like Blue Magoo and Pineapple Express.
The endeavor has since catapulted the city into the national spotlight, publicity North Bonneville hopes will bring foot traffic, permanent businesses and, most importantly, money that the cash-strapped community could use to hire back its one-man police force, refurbish its outdated sewer system and keep its streetlights on at night. “People sort of just forget about Bonneville,” said Tim Dudley, president of the North Bonneville Public Development Authority, which was set up by the city to manage the pot shop. “This definitely has put us on the map.”
With less than 1,000 residents, a lone gas station and a handful of private businesses, North Bonneville has never been an economic powerhouse. But city officials are betting the recently legalized marijuana industry will change that. North Bonneville runs on a yearly budget of about $1.2 million. Officials estimate the Cannabis Corner could bring in as much as $250,000 a year in profits, enough to cover 20 percent of North Bonneville’s annual expenses and more than the city gets from its main revenue source, property taxes.
The money would go straight into a fund the city could then apply to the Public Development Authority to use. The first item on North Bonneville’s agenda is renovating the city’s outdated public park. “Before we do any big projects we want to make sure we have our feet on the ground,” said Dudley.
Whether a pot shop and pretty mountain views are enough to spur an economic boom has yet to be seen. Some have wondered if the city is too optimistic in believing that the Cannabis Corner could be the catalyst to recovery. With Oregon having legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014, retail pot shops could soon follow, meaning there will be no need to drive across the Washington border to purchase pot.
“Is this thing going to help the city? Absolutely,” said John Spencer, a financial consultant hired by North Bonneville to develop the pot store’s business model. “Is it going to save this city? We’ll see.”