Pierce County has Washington’s top lawyer on its side in attempting to ban legalized sales of recreational marijuana.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a legal opinion last week that the voter-approved legalization doesn’t prevent counties and cities from banning sales outright or setting other local rules that are stricter than the state’s.
The Pierce County Council last November passed local legislation prohibiting licensed marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county. County Executive Pat McCarthy, citing concern over possible legal challenges and saying the county should comply with state law, vetoed the council action. But the council voted to override the veto, leaving intact the ban, which the council majority wants to remain in effect until Congress removes pot from the list of federally controlled substances. There have been no indications that Congress plans to do that.
The county ban was approved 12 months after voters statewide in November 2012 approved Initiative 502, the pro-pot sales ballot measure. Cities and towns such as Eatonville will make their own decisions on whether to accept the state control or set their own local regulations.
The state Liquor Control Board requested an opinion from Ferguson on local ordinances versus the state law. The opinion from his office last Thursday stated, “Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in Washington, 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.”
The board’s chairwoman, Sharon Foster, said the legal opinion “will be a disappointment to the majority of Washington’s voters who approved Initiative 502. We’re not yet sure how this opinion will change the implementation of the initiative. If some local governments impose bans, it will impact public safety by allowing the current illicit market to continue. It will also reduce the state’s expectations for revenue generated from the legal system we are putting in place.”