State Attorney General: Cities Can Block Pot Business

Jan 16, 2014

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says cities and counties can block licensed marijuana businesses from operating.

In a long-awaited opinion Thursday, Ferguson says the state's legal marijuana law, Initiative 502, leaves local governments the option of adopting moratoriums or bans that prohibit licensed grow operations, processing facilities or retail shops from their jurisdictions.

"If the drafters of the initiative wanted to preempt local authority to ban or regulate marijuana businesses, they could have done so. They did not," Ferguson said. "My role as attorney general is to defend what the people enacted and to answer the legal questions presented. It is not my role to read language into the initiative that is not there."

The opinion was requested by the Washington Liquor Control Board, which has been concerned that local bans could restrict access to legal marijuana and make it difficult to move people away from the black market.

Some jurisdictions have effective bans on pot businesses, because their local ordinances require businesses to follow state, federal and local law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Nearly three dozen of the state's biggest cities have adopted moratoriums of up to a year on marijuana businesses.

The Liquor Control Board, in a statement, thanked Ferguson, but added it was unsure how the ruling would affect the implementation of I-502.

“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,” the statement said.

The board said it will discuss next steps with local government, legislators and the governor’s office.