Local governments can ban pot businesses, AG says

The Washington attorney general announced his opinion this morning on the controversy.

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WALLA WALLA — State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today said cities and counties can ban or severely restrict marijuana-related businesses in their jurisdictions.

In a response to a request from the state Liquor Control Board, Ferguson said Initiative 502 failed to address the issue of local bans or regulation. If the intiative’s authors wanted to pre-empt bans, they could have put it in then, he said.

“Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law pre-empts local ordinances,” Ferguson said in his opinion. “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 pre-empt local authority to regulate such.”

Ferguson said court rulings have also held local governments have broad authority to regulate within their jurisdictions, and nothing in I-502 limits that authority with respect to licensed marijuana businesses.

In Walla Walla County, the cities of Walla Walla and Waitsburg are moving ahead with zoning to allow growing, processing and sale of recreational marijuana. Walla Walla County and College Place have enacted moratoriums.

At least five jurisdictions in the state have banned pot-related businesses, according to a survey of 95 cities and counties conducted by the Seattle-based Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. Another 51 other cities and counties have adopted moratoriums and 39 cities and counties have adopted zoning to allow growing, processing and sale of recreational marijuana.

A sixth city, Mossyrock, has also banned marijuana-related operations, according to the Municipal Research and Service Center of Washington.

Walla Walla County Commission Chairman Jim Johnson said he had no immediate comment on the attorney general’s opinion. “Obviously we’re going to have to review the opinion with our Prosecuting Attorney’s office to see how that affects our moratorium,” he said.

At a news conference this morning, Ferguson said he couldn’t say whether his opinion would give encouragement to local jurisdictions who may want to ban or severely restrict marijuana-related businesses. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue is challenged in court.

According to the latest list of released Tuesday by the Liquor Control Board, more than 7,000 applications for growing, processing and retail licenses have been received so far. Board spokesman Brian Smith said applications are still being processed.

In Walla Walla County, there are now 20 applications for both growing and processing operations, two applications for processing only and one applicant for growing only. There are now 10 applicants for retail licenses.

Since only four retail licenses will be issued in Walla Walla County, two in the city of Walla Walla and two at-large, the applicants who receive licenses will be decided by a lottery method.

Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November to legalize recreational marijuana use. Colorado voters also approved Amendment 64, which is similar.

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