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State Attorney General Says Cities and Counties Can Ban Recreational Marijuana Uses


January 16, 2014  by  Jim Doherty
Category:  Marijuana

State Attorney General Says Cities and Counties Can Ban Recreational Marijuana Uses

On January 16th, the state Attorney General's Office issued a formal opinion concluding that Initiative 502 does not preempt counties, cities, and towns from banning recreational marijuana businesses -  producers, processors, and retailers - within their jurisdictions.

Here’s some wording from the opinion:

Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers in Washington State, 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.

Keep in mind that an attorney general opinion is not binding on state courts that might address these issues. Judges will certainly examine the reasoning of the attorney general and the prior cases cited by the attorney general, but judges will make their own analysis of the legal issues.

Another player in this issue is the state legislature: a house bill (HB 2322) has been introduced that would prohibit local governments from "taking actions preventing or impeding the creation or operation of commercial marijuana businesses licensed by the liquor control board." In other words, local governments would be prohibited from prohibiting recreational marijuana uses within their borders, or regulating them in a way that would make impractical or impossible to establish such businesses. If that bill passes, it would effectively negate this attorney general’s opinion.

So, we need to get used to the fact that our recreational marijuana laws are subject to interpretation and will undoubtedly be amended over the next few years. I-502 merely started the process of moving to a regulated and taxed market for recreational marijuana.

For more, check out MRSC's Recreational Marijuana: A Guide for Local Governments.


Photo Courtesy of NCNP

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jim Doherty

Jim had over 24 years of experience researching and responding to varied legal questions at MRSC. He had special expertise in transmission pipeline planning issues, as well as the issues surrounding medical and recreational marijuana. He is now retired.

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