Bill would wield legal action, money over no-pot decisions

Co-sponsor says proposal targets Lakewood, Pierce County for ‘breaking the law’

Staff writerJanuary 16, 2014 

A proposal introduced in the Legislature on Wednesday by Tacoma Rep. David Sawyer would threaten counties and cities that don’t go along with marijuana legalization with legal action and loss of state money.

House Bill 2322, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Sam Hunt of Olympia and Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, targets all cities and counties that enact bans. But Sawyer said this week that he had his home county, Pierce, and its second-largest city, Lakewood, specifically in mind.

“They are both breaking state law,” said Sawyer, a Democrat who represents parts of Lakewood, Tacoma, Spanaway, Parkland and Frederickson. “They are basically ignoring the will of the voters.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office plans to release an opinion Thursday on the legal question of whether local governments can ban pot businesses. But on its face, Initiative 502 does not provide a way for cities and counties to opt out of the new regulated marijuana system. The state Liquor Control Board has said it will awards licenses despite local bans.

Still, some local governments say the state’s defiance of federal law that makes marijuana illegal is forcing them to choose which law to enforce, even though the Obama administration has indicated it will look the other way. Lakewood officials have said they don’t recognize marijuana sales as legal unless federal policy changes. Pierce County’s effective ban is in place unless Congress changes marijuana’s legal status.

Olympia has a moratorium on marijuana businesses, but the City Council partially lifted it in November for businesses that receive licenses through the state’s new regulatory system for recreational pot.

The legislation proposed by Sawyer would spell out that local governments must treat state-licensed pot companies like any other business. It would allow the Liquor Board to punish violators by suing or by withholding their share of revenue from liquor and marijuana taxes and fees, or both.

“I’m a little shocked that he would introduce a bill that would actually hurt his own constituents — taking money away from the very people he represents,” said Pierce County Council chairman Dan Roach, who said Sawyer instead was trying to appeal to a “pothead constituency.”

Pierce County is retaining an outside lawyer to defend against lawsuits from state-licensed businesses — and maybe for a more aggressive strategy. Roach said Tuesday the county would take the state to federal court to fight for its right to keep marijuana businesses out of the county’s unincorporated areas.

Sawyer argues that as units of the state, counties can’t challenge Washington on the federal question.

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