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Wash. Attorney General: If You Like Legal Marijuana, Support Local Pot Bans

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
In this photo taken July 1, 2014, a one-gram packet of a variety of recreational marijuana named "Space Needle" is shown during packaging operations at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle.

Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson has intervened in a lawsuit over whether local governments can keep marijuana businesses out. Ferguson says if you want pot to stay legal in Washington, you should want cities to be allowed to ban it.  

The city of Fife, like many others around Washington, has said it won’t allow pot businesses within city limits. A couple of would-be entrepreneurs sued the city to overturn the ban.

Ferguson, in his brief, sided with Fife, defending the city’s right to reject the businesses. But he also argued against the city, too.

It can be a little confusing, because Fife is making two arguments at once. The first is that even if state law allows something, local law can still restrict it. That’s based on Ferguson’s own legal opinion.

But if the court doesn’t buy that, Fife could try the nuclear option.

“I think folks in Washington state don’t quite realize the jeopardy that Initiative 502 is in,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson says Fife’s plan B is to argue federal law, which still considers pot illegal, invalidates the whole framework of legalization under I-502. And as the state’s lawyer, Ferguson is obligated to defend the law passed by voters.

“If you want marijuana legalization in this state, then you want local jurisdictions to have the power to opt out. Otherwise, a court will have to address the whole issue of whether or not it’s even constitutional at all to have marijuana legalized in Washington state. That’s something I think we all want to avoid,” he said.

The ACLU has intervened on behalf of the businesses suing Fife, and attorneys there say they believe they’d win on the federal preemption question.

The case heads to court on Aug. 29.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.