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Showdown Over Wenatchee's Pot Business Ban Could Have Statewide Consequences

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A would-be marijuana merchant is suing the city of Wenatchee over its ban on pot businesses. The outcome could have big implications for other local governments trying to keep out cannabis.

Shaun Preder of SMP Retail wants to open a retail pot store in Wenatchee. But the city does not grant licenses to businesses that don’t comply with federal law, which still considers marijuana illegal.

Attorney Hillary Bricken of the Canna Law Group, who is representing SMP, said local governments can’t fall back on federal law to bypass the state law — not in Wenatchee, or anywhere else in Washington.

“Our goal with this lawsuit is not only to create an exemption in the city of Wenatchee, but to also nuke these other moratoria that have improperly and unfairly relied on the enforcement of federal law,” Bricken said.

Dozens of bans and moratoria could be affected by the ruling, and depending on what legal arguments Wenatchee brings to court, the case could have even wider ripples.

If the court has to weigh in on the conflict between state and federal law, the very legality of Washington’s marijuana initiative would be at stake. Bricken said her complaint is narrow enough not to prompt a wider war over the marijuana law in general.

Wenatchee city officials told the Seattle Times they would not comment on the suit until they have a chance to evaluate it. 

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