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AG says cities, counties may ban pot businesses

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion Jan. 16 that local governments are not prohibited from regulating or banning recreational marijuana businesses. Ferguson issued the opinion at the request of Sharon Foster, chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

The opinion states: “Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 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 preempt local authority to regulate such businesses. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions.”

A statement by the AG's office points to a failure by I-502 drafters to word the initiative to require local governments to accept marijuana businesses, adding it would be up to the state Legislature whether to amend the law to do so.

Ferguson's opinion would not preclude a court challenge against any local municipality that opts to ban recreational marijuana businesses within its jurisdiction. The liquor control board issued its own statement following the opinion that local bans will impact public safety by continuing the illegal marijuana market and also reduce projected tax revenue from commercial sales.

The Bellevue Planning Commission is in the process of reviewing an interim city ordinance regulating where and how production, processing and retail will occur here, and anticipates a recommendation for a permanent ordinance to vote on in the future. Mayor Claudia Balducci said the city has spent a lot of time and energy preparing to accept recreational marijuana businesses in Bellevue and she doesn't anticipate the city council will change gears now.

 

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