Liquor Control Board reacts to AG’s marijuana opinion

Yakima Herald-RepublicJanuary 16, 2014 

Sean Houlihan, Marijuana Licensing Investigator with the Washington State Liquor Control Board answers questions from a person interested in the application on the guidelines of growing marijuana at the Washington Liquor Control Board headquarters in Olympia on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

PHOTO BY LUI KIT WONG — Tacoma News-Tribune Buy Photo

Cities and counties are not prevented from banning marijuana businesses under state law, the state Attorney General’s Office said in an opinion released this morning that could clear the way for cities and counties across Central Washington mulling bans on the new industry.

In the opinion, issued this morning, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said state law affords great authority to counties and cities to establish ordinances and that nothing in the voter-approved marijuana law specifically states local governments don’t have the right to ban marijuana businesses.

“We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions,” the opinion reads.

Local supporters of a ban on marijuana businesses were pleased with the decision, although it doesn’t settle the matter. The attorney general’s opinion is not binding in court, although such opinions are can carry significant weight with judges.

“I don’t think our opinion changes the fact we’ll ultimately see this issue resolved in the courts and potentially our state Supreme Court,” Ferguson said in a conference call with reporters.

Yakima City Councilman Dave Ettl — who first proposed a ban on marijuana growing, processing and retail in city limits — said the opinion was “comforting.”

“It’s nice to know for once there is a legal opportunity to challenge westside thought as it’s applied to eastside values,” Ettl said, referring to the state’s traditional liberal and conservative split across the Cascades.

The Yakima City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ban at Tuesday’s meeting and could take action following the hearing.

The Yakima County Board of Commissioners has remained relatively silent on the issue as commissioners awaited the attorney general’s opinion. The county is under a moratorium set to end in March, and Commissioner Mike Leita said the board will likely be ready to make a decision by then now that the the attorney general has issued his opinion.

“We’re using that moratorium to the fullest to give us adequate time for deliberations,” Leita said.

Leita said he still couldn’t indicate what the county’s ultimate decision would be on marijuana businesses. Although Leita says he and the other commissioners personally oppose marijuana, there may be room to allow some businesses under certain conditions.

“Personally I’m grateful” for the decision, Leita said. “But we don’t hold these offices to make our personal decisions the ultimate decisions.”

The state Liquor Control Board, which had sought the Attorney General’s opinion said it 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,” the Liquor Board said in a news release.

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