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State Liquor Board Seeking Formal Opinion On Whether Pot Moratoriums Are Legal

Legal marijuana is expected to go on sale by this spring in Washington cities like Seattle and Spokane.

Some municipalities, including Federal Way, have put moratoriums in place to give officials more time to determine how to implement the new law in their community. But in some cases, the moratoriums are more severe. 

Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr says Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana, has been completely rejected by the Pierce County Council.

“In that, the argument is that federal law trumps local or state law, and that as a county commissioner or a city council person, I can not authorize the location of business that are illegal under federal law,’’ Marr said.

Pierce County voters approved I-502 by a 54-to-46 percent margin, Marr said, and the law was specific in saying that cities and counties must revise their rules to allow for marijuana sales.

“Under 502, unlike liquor, there is not the opportunity for local cities and counties to opt out, to essentially be ‘dry.’ That does not exist,” he said. “Under law, there has to be reasonable accommodation through zoning for these type of legal businesses to exist.”

And, Marr said, there is one legal question that the state is preparing to answer officially: “Do local jurisdictions have the ability to ban or create, let’s say, unreasonable requirements for zoning?”

“The attorney general is of the opinion that it isn’t, and we’re getting a formal opinion that I think will provide some direction to cities,” Marr said, adding he expects a formal written option to be issued in the next few weeks.

In the case of communities that have tried to override the legalization of marijuana completely, Marr said such cases could wind up in litigation and eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.