By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued his formal opinion on whether or not cities and counties can choose to “opt out” of Initiative 502 by disallowing marijuana-related businesses via local ordinance. The verdict? Yes, they can.
“The formal opinion concludes I-502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions,” stated a press release from the attorney general’s office on Jan. 16.
Thus far, Monroe City Councilmembers have indicated a desire to prohibit marijuana-related businesses from being able to operate in the city of Monroe, having discussed the topic on several occasions. In December they established a six-month moratorium that disallows the issuance of any marijuana-related business licenses.
This includes marijuana processing, production and retail sales. The moratorium also prohibits medical marijuana collective gardens in all zoning districts.
The attorney general’s press release clarified 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 business. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions,” stated Ferguson in the opinion.
The press release went on to explain that, while attorney general opinions are “not binding in courts,” they do have some clout, and are “usually given careful consideration and respect.”
In the recent public hearing held on Jan. 14, over a dozen citizens from both incorporated and unincorporated Monroe spoke out against the establishment of marijuana businesses within the city, with two citizens speaking in favor.
Monroe residents also spoke out against marijuana in December.
Washington State Liquor Control Board Chairperson Sharon Foster issued a statement about the attorney general’s opinion.
“The legal opinion will be a disappointment to the majority of Washington’s voters who approved Initiative 502. We’re not yet sure how this opinion will change the implementation of the initiative,” said Foster in a press release. “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.”
Monroe will hold another public hearing on marijuana-related issues at the city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m., to offer citizens an additional opportunity to provide testimony.