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WA State Attorney General – ‘Cities, Counties CAN Block Pot Sales’ – Ruling Complicates Legal Marijuana

WA AG Bob Ferguson
(WA State Attorney General’s Office)

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s opinion leaves pot stores wondering where they can set up shop in some cities.  Also complicates legal marijuana situation.

In a non-legally binding response Thursday,  Ferguson said cities and counties in Washington state can refuse to allow state marijuana stores to be set up or operate within their boundaries.  He determined that I-502, the law legalizing recreational marijuana, allows cities and counties to adopt more stringent rules than those contained in the measure.  A news release from the AG’s office said this:

 “Although (the law) establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in Washington state, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to pre-empt local authority to regulate such businesses.”

Again, this opinion is not legally binding, but will now apparently give communities the power to block pot stores from opening.  A number of Washington cities have already approved zoning and other changes, paving the way for marijuana stores, but numerous other cities -including Richland, Pasco and Kennewick – have tabled the issue until this question was settled.  Yakima is considering an outright ban.   This opinion today would conceivably give Yakima the green light to proceed.

Some vendors who’ve applied for licenses may sue cities and counties if they then are not allowed to open stores there.   The Washington State Liquor Control board requested the ruling, but was hoping Ferguson would offer a different opinion.

Officials fear that if cities and counties are allowed to ban pot stores within their own boundaries, it will make it harder for the state stores to “compete” with the black market, and harder for officials to put the black market out of business.  They say it will encourage continued illegal growth, sale and use of the drug.

Ferguson says the language of I-502 led to this confusion, while supporters disagree.

By comparison,  the law passed in Colorado allowed cities and counties to choose if they wanted pot stores or not.

The WA State Liquor Control Board reacted to Ferguson’s opinion by saying if cities and counties enact bans it will “impact public safety by allowing the illicit market to continue,” and such bans would negatively impact the projected revenue the state expected to gain from sales of pot in state-run stores.

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