State’s AG to intervene on pot lawsuits

Case involves cities that have barred stores from opening

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter

Published:

 

The state Attorney General’s Office is stepping into battles between two Washington cities and pot shop licensees who have been barred from opening their stores.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson held a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon announcing the state’s decision to intervene in lawsuits in Fife and Wenatchee that could have statewide implications. In each case, the cities have banned recreational marijuana operations, and pot shop licensees are firing back to get their stores up and running.

“Our goal in intervening in these cases is to protect Initiative 502 and uphold the will of the voters,” Ferguson said.

Officials throughout Clark County are keeping an eye on the cases. Aside from Battle Ground, every small city in the county has a moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said local officials are looking to Ferguson’s lead as they prepare to draft zoning regulations or permanently ban marijuana operations in city limits.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Higgins said. “Most of the cities — if they do decide not to allow (marijuana businesses) — that’s the reason they’re going to cite: the attorney general.”

The state will take somewhat of a neutral position in the cases, both defending the voters’ will to legalize recreational marijuana and arguing that cities have the right to ban pot-related businesses. In his interpretation of I-502, which legalized recreational marijuana, Ferguson said the law does not require cities to provide for the sale of marijuana.

“We’re not intervening on any side,” Ferguson said. “We’re intervening on the behalf of the state of Washington, and so we don’t take a position on the arguments made by the parties in the lawsuits.”

However, Ferguson said he will also argue that city leaders cannot base their bans on the drug’s illegal status at the federal level.

“We have a clear interest in protecting the will of the voters, a clearly expressed interest in creating a regulatory system for the sale and purchase of marijuana in Washington state,” he said.

Whether the Attorney General’s Office can actually get involved in the lawsuits is up to the judge in each case.

Limited role

The state’s role would be limited to appearing in court and issuing briefs to state its stance on the issue. Ferguson hopes to have the final word from the judges in the next two weeks.

Higgins said he appreciates Ferguson’s insistence that cities leave the federal ban out of the equation while considering their own bans.

“I agree with what the attorney general said,” Higgins said. “If we go down that road, it’ll just simply be cited on building use and whether or not it’s allowed in our community.”

The Camas City Council will discuss its moratorium again at a workshop on Aug. 18. More talks are also coming up in Ridgefield, where Mayor Ron Onslow said city councilors remain divided on recreational marijuana businesses

“We’re still just waiting for more information to come out,” Onslow said. “I think the council wants to hear what’s going to happen with the lawsuits.”

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