State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today said local governments are allowed to effectively ban recreational marijuana businesses.
The state Liquor Control Board asked Ferguson for his opinion on whether state law allowing marijuana under Initiative 502 preempts local jurisdictions from banning marijuana retailers, producers or processors, and whether local governments could establish land-use regulations that made it impractical for those businesses to operate.
Ferguson said no to the first question, and yes to the second.
The state constitution gives cities and counties broad authority, Ferguson said, and I-502 did not intend to pre-empt that local authority.
“Nothing in the initiative itself says it allows businesses to operate in conflict with local law,” Ferguson said. If the authors of I-502 wanted to pre-empt local authority, they could’ve done so but did not.
He noted the opinion is not binding in court, but such advisory opinions are often given careful weight and respect.
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the opinion was challenged in court. “I don’t think our opinion changes the fact we’ll ultimately see this resolved in court,” Ferguson said.
Alison Holcomb, chief author of I-502, disagreed with Ferguson’s opinion, saying it was the “wrong call.”
Authors of the law thought it would’ve been redundant, she said, to specify in I-502 that local bans weren’t allowed.
The law, she maintained, gives state officials the authority to determine the maximum number of stores per county in order to make sure consumers have adequate access to pot to discourage purchases from the illicit market.
“You can’t say counties are allowed to ban businesses without conflict with the provision that there be adequate access,” she said.