Wash. Attorney General: Cities Can Ban Pot Shops

Washington’s budding marijuana business took a blow Thursday when Bob Ferguson, the state’s Attorney General, determined that cities and counties in the state can ban pot shops from operating if they choose to do so. This comes two days after a bipartisan group of legislators in the state introduced a bill that would prevent cities from enacting these very sorts of bans — so this could be the beginning of a long, protracted legal battle over the status of marijuana in Washington.

Recreational marijuana is illegal at the federal level, but it’s legal at the state level in Washington (and in Colorado, of course). The problem is that some cities and counties in the state have local laws that obligate them to follow all federal statutes. That means they can’t allow marijuana shops to operate within their jurisdiction, as they’d be violating federal law and, by extension, local law. To that effect, more than three dozen of the state’s largest cities have already enacted moratoriums on marijuana sales.

To combat this, 10 members of the state House have introduced legislation that would prohibit cities from blocking weed sales — a ban on weed bans, if you will. The bill, which was introduced by Representative David Sawyer on Tuesday, would punish cities that enacted such bans by stripping them of disbursements from the state liquor board, which regulates marijuana sales in the state.

It was the liquor board, in fact, that requested the Attorney General to rule on the issue. The board was (and presumably still is) concerned that blocking pot shops from operating in certain cities will both reduce tax revenue from marijuana sales and incentivize smokers to go back to the black market.

Ferguson’s ruling probably isn’t the last word on this, and if state lawmakers continue to push legislation banning weed bans, it could be a long time until the issue is resolved.