I-502 Author Says Attorney General Got It Wrong On Pot Business Bans

Jan 17, 2014

Washington’s Attorney General buoyed local governments looking to block pot businesses with a legal opinion issued Thursday. His argument cites the intentions of those who wrote the state’s the pot law, but the initiative’s primary author said he got it wrong.

The question is whether cities and counties can ban or delay marijuana businesses within their borders. Attorney General Bob Ferguson argued they can do that, without breaking state law. He wrote if the drafters of the law had meant to preempt that kind of move, they would have said so in the initiative.

But Alison Holcomb, I-502’s chief architect, said the law sits within the state’s uniform controlled substances act, which already rules out local bans and moratoriums.

“The attorney general seemed to think there was specific language required to achieve what our state marijuana laws already provides, that local laws can’t be inconsistent with the state law,” she said.

Members of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which requested Ferguson’s non-binding opinion, said they don’t know yet how they’ll proceed.

They could deny licenses to businesses in those areas, and risk lawsuits from the applicants. Or they could grant the licenses, and risk lawsuits from the cities and counties.

The latter option could be perilous for supporters of legal marijuana: Any lawsuit pitting state law against the federal prohibition risks a judge throwing out the whole marijuana industry.

Holcomb said that’s always been a risk, and advocates are prepared for that fight.