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Recreational marijuana regulations discussed at council work session
According to a formal state attorney general’s opinion released Jan. 16, Washington cities and counties can ban recreational marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdictions. Some cities have voted to ban recreational marijuana businesses.
In 2012, state voters approved Initiative 502 to set up a legal system to tax and regulate recreational marijuana.
“Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. "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.”
Ferguson issued the response after a request from the state Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster for a ruling. The state Liquor Control Board will issue licenses later this year for retail, producers and processing businesses.
Development Director Nick Bond said the issue was brought before the Planning Commission when the attorney general’s opinion was announced.
“Just because the attorney general has said this, doesn’t mean we may not get it appealed if we follow through and ban it,” Bond said. “From a risk perspective, we can defer to the attorney general’s opinion if we want to justify it in doing something other than what we did previously.”
An interim ordinance — adopted by the Port Orchard council on Nov. 12 — would not allow recreational marijuana sales in downtown for the six months. But recreational marijuana processing, production and retail sales will be allowed — subject to state regulations— in other parts of the city. Under the city’s land-use code, processing, production and sales will be allowed in certain areas. Sales would be allowed on most Bethel Corridor parcels, but processing and production would be regulated to industrial areas, such as those on Old Clifton Road.
State law prohibits retail sales within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and other types of public spaces.
Bond said he sent the interim regulations to the state’s Department of Commerce under a 60-day review for the attorney general’s opinion.
“Everything is in motion to have a public hearing on this in March and potentially adopt it on a permanent basis,” Bond said.
Councilman Jeffrey Cartwright asked it the city had any applications for recreational marijuana processing, production or retail sales.
City Attorney Greg Jacoby said there are two applications as a producer, none for a processor and 10 requesting a retail sales license within.
“It is certainly true it’s not going to be 10 and probably not more than one within the city limits,” said Jacoby. “You definitely have people interested. You’re not going to have 10 retail stores in Port Orchard.”
Jacoby said the council was aware of the risks of the various options on regulating recreational marijuana when it took action in November.
“You took what appeared then to be one of the lower risk options,” said Jacoby. “Because at the time it seemed likely cities who prohibit recreational marijuana would be sued and could lose.”
He said with the attorney general’s opinion it seems the state is destined to have — like with liquor — a “patchwork of communities, some of which allow liquor sales in their cities and towns, and some that don’t.”
Jacoby said it the city wants to ban marijuana processing, producing and retail sales within the city limits, the council needs to act fast.