Legal recreational pot moving forward in Edmonds despite State AG’s ruling that governments can ban it

marijuana artIn a move that is raising more questions than it answers throughout the state, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday that it’s OK for local governments to ban recreational marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions. Edmonds officials, meanwhile, say they plan to move ahead with allowing recreational marijuana in the city.

The Liquor Control Board had asked for an advisory opinion on whether state pot laws issued in the wake of voter passage of Initiative 502 could allow local governments to ban or block marijuana-related businesses. Citing state constitutional provisions granting certain authorities to local governments, Ferguson concluded that local jurisdictions may do this.

The opinion states:

“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.” (See full text of the opinion here.)

In response, Washington State Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster issued the following statement:

“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. 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.”

Others have expressed additional doubts, questioning whether the provisions of the new pot law calling for adequate access were given sufficient weight, and raising the possibility of new legal state licensees suing jurisdictions who ban them from operating.

Locally, Edmonds is still operating under a 6-month moratorium on issuing business licenses to marijuana-related businesses. This moratorium expires on February 20.

According to City Council President Diane Buckshnis, the City of Edmonds has been moving ahead cautiously on this issue and she sees no reason that the recent AG opinion will change this.

“Recreational marijuana was considered by the City Council last year. The Council voted 6 in favor with one abstention to develop a framework for how to implement this in Edmonds, and put in place the current moratorium while this moves forward,” she said. “I feel that given the strong support for this both locally and statewide, the indicated action is to move ahead cautiously toward implementing legal recreational marijuana in Edmonds while we carefully monitor how the situation unfolds.”

This approach is echoed by Edmonds Development Services Director Rob Chave. “Given that no councilmembers indicated a preference to ban marijuana businesses in Edmonds, I don’t think the AG opinion will make any difference locally,” Chave said.

Edmonds Chief of Police Al Compaan also sees legal recreational pot as a done deal and that the Ferguson opinion will make no difference locally. “This train has already left the station,” he said. “Our job now is to move forward cautiously in a manner consistent with state law.”

Meanwhile, the State Liquor Control Board continues to process the flood of applications received before the Dec. 20, 2013 cutoff.

“It’s taking longer than expected,” said Brian Smith, Board spokesperson. “We will continue to update our website every Tuesday with the latest figures.”

To date more than 7,000 businesses have applied for producer, processor and retailer licenses statewide (see the numbers as of Jan. 14 in Excel format here.

Locally, the count now stands as follows:

Edmonds: producer 10, processor 6, retailer 16.

Lynnwood: producer 22, processor 10, retailer 22

Mountlake Terrace: producer 1, processor 1, retailer 8

While the state has set no limits on producer (i.e., grower) and processor licenses, it has restricted the number of retail outlets, allocating them to local jurisdictions based on several factors including population, density, and other demographic measures. Allocations for Lynnwood and Edmonds allow two retail outlets each. Mountlake Terrace gets one. To get one of these licenses, all pot business applications will be first subjected to a rigorous state-level review process. If after the review the number of potential retail licensees exceeds the allocation number, the State will hold a lottery to determine who gets a license.

And according to Edmonds officials, once these licenses are obtained the new businesses will not be barred from operating here.

— By Larry Vogel

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