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Fifth county pot ban in state upheld by court

Attorney General applauds move, decries actions by other states


For the fifth time, a superior court judge Monday agreed with an opinion issued by the Attorney General’s Office earlier this year, concluding that nothing in Initiative 502 overrides local governments’ authority to regulate or ban marijuana businesses. This allows I-502 to continue to be implemented. Every court to consider this issue has now agreed with the Attorney General’s opinion.

Monday’s ruling came from Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper in the case of Green Collar LLC v. Pierce County. The plaintiffs in the case sought to open a marijuana business in Pierce County despite the county’s ban on such businesses. A formal opinion released by the AGO in January 2014 concluded that, as drafted, I-502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.

This is the second I-502 case to be heard before Culpepper. He made the initial ruling in August in a similar case involving the City of Fife.

This is the fifth ruling in a row that agrees with the AGO opinion that nothing in Initiative 502 overrides local governments’ authority to regulate or ban marijuana businesses. The other rulings include Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Evans’ ruling in December in  similar case involving Clark County, Benton County Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor’s ruling in November in a similar case involving the City of Kennewick and Chelan County Superior Court Judge T.W. Small’s ruling in October in a similar case involving the City of Wenatchee.

If courts continue to agree with the AGO opinion that I-502 does not require local governments and counties to allow marijuana businesses, they will not need to decide in these cases whether or not federal law preempts I-502. This allows I-502 to continue to be implemented.

The AGO’s office says it intervened in this case to uphold the will of the voters, defend I-502 and ensure its proper interpretation. The AGO does not represent the plaintiffs or Pierce County. Rather, the AGO is an additional party to the lawsuit. Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Even gave oral arguments on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office.

As noted above, this is the fifth ruling that agrees with the Attorney General’s Office on this issue. The plaintiffs in the first case, MMH, LLC v. Fife, have appealed the decision in their case to the Washington Supreme Court.  The court will likely decide sometime early next year whether to accept review of that case.

Earlier in the week, Ferguson offered a following statement in response to the announcement that Oklahoma and Nebraska have sued Colorado in the United States Supreme Court over marijuana legalization. Nebraska and Oklahoma allege that Colorado’s Amendment 64 and its implementing legislation regarding recreational marijuana is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law.

“I am disappointed that Nebraska and Oklahoma took this step to interfere with Colorado’s popularly enacted initiative to legalize marijuana,” said Ferguson. “I will be following this closely and intend to ensure that Washington’s interests are protected. I will vigorously oppose any effort by other states to interfere with the will of Washington voters.”


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