Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Washington State Attorney General Says Local Pot Bans Legal

A formal opinion, given by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office, has stated that local communities can continue to ban marijuana stores from opening in their jurisdiction. This could put licensed growers and retailers in a bit of a bind. After all, the State Liquor Control Board could issue a license to a marijuana business and then that business could be refused the local business licensing or other permits it would need to open.

Colorado is facing similar issues. In Colorado, local bans have left some communities with marijuana businesses and some without.

Yet those who are for the ban, such as Dan Roach, Council Chairman for Pierce County, are glad that their counties will be able to ban marijuana businesses and “not expend taxpayer dollars to defend it.

State Representative Chris Hurst, however, has argued that the initiative pre-empts local action. He says that if the ruling holds it could potentially ruin the whole legalized marijuana experiment for the entire state of Washington.

Chris Hurst also says that I-502 will fail without pre-emption. According to Hurst, a major county cannot rely on criminal distribution of marijuana and then have licensed stores in the next county over.

Sharon Foster, Liquor Control Board Chairwoman, agrees because the local bans will in effect allow the current illicit markets to continue, while reducing the state's expectations for revenue that is to be generated from the newly legalized marijuana market.  

According to state law, cities and counties have the right to decide their own regulations unless forbidden by state law and I-502 did not address that issue.

There are two options looming to address this issue. Currently under consideration is a proposal to threaten reluctant cities and counties with loss of funding. The other option is to change the initiative; however, that requires two-thirds supermajorities in the Legislature this year.

For now, it seems that this issue will likely be settled in court. Until then, Washington counties like Pierce and Lakewood are happy with Ferguson's opinion.

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