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Can Washington Cities Block Pot Business? Top Lawyer Says Yes

Attorney General Bob Gerguson says Washington cities can block pot business from operating, and counties as well. Licensed marijuana businesses beware.

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In a long a-waited 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 jurisdiction per the Washington Post.

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

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

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

The attorney general’s opinion is based on the fact that Initiative 502, which legalized the production and retail sale of marijuana, did not include language that would exempt local jurisdictions from preempting state law.

“Drafters in a single sentence could have addressed this,” Ferguson said Thursday at a joint press conference with Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell.

Ferguson’s opinion is in support of Clark County commissioners, who have signaled plans to follow Pierce County’s lead and not accept any applications until the federal government has legalized marijuana. The Liquor Control Board stated Clark County can have up to 15 marijuana retailers, including six in the uncorporated areas governed by county commissioners.

The opinion helps to answer some questions that have risen from local government’s recent attempts to regulate recreational marijuana.

I-502, allows adults ages 21 and over to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, was approved by voters in 2012. The Liquor Control Board has capped the maximum number of marijuana shops statewide at 334.

If Washington cites and counties can block pot business from operating, there will be both advantageous and disadvantageous results to follow.

About Chelsea Alves