City bans pot shops in backlash against Washington state legalization

OLYMPIA, Washington Thu Jan 23, 2014 5:04am EST

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OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Lawmakers in one of the largest cities in Washington state have said no to marijuana businesses, the latest in a series of backlashes by municipalities against a voter-approved recreational pot market in the northwest state.

Washington state and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana use following voter referendums in 2012, capitalizing on rapidly-changing public opinion about the drug, which remains illegal under federal law.

But in a move that regulators said could complicate efforts to root out a black market for marijuana, the Pacific Northwest state's top lawyer said in a formal opinion on January 16 that the marijuana law contains no language precluding local governments from banning pot businesses.

The Yakima City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 in favor of banning pot growers, processors and retailers from operating within its borders.

Yakima, a city of some 93,000 residents in central Washington state that leans toward conservative politics, is the first municipality to ban pot businesses since Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson's opinion.

Yakima joins at least three other Washington state local governments - Pierce County and the cities of Wenatchee and Mossyrock - with similar measures.

More than 20 others have moratoriums to keep such businesses from opening, at least temporarily, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

Although the Justice Department in August gave states new leeway to experiment with legalized marijuana, a move marijuana advocates hailed as an historic shift, the drug remains illegal under federal law. It is largely on those grounds the municipalities have sought to enact bans.

"There is a federal law against it," said Yakima City Council member Bill Lover, who voted in favor of the ban. "I don't buy into somebody saying that we're just going to ignore that law."

Unlike Washington state, Colorado's pot law has language that clearly allows local governments to ban recreational marijuana businesses within their borders.


Some 56 percent of Yakima residents voted against the 2012 measure legalizing recreational-use marijuana, which passed statewide with 56 percent in favor.

Ferguson acknowledged last week that he expects the issue will likely be resolved in the courts - presumably when a prospective marijuana business owner files suit after being barred by a local government from setting up shop.

At least 34 applications have been filed to open pot businesses in Yakima, according to data provided by the Liquor Control Board.

"If some local governments impose bans it will impact public safety by allowing the current illicit market to continue," Washington state Liquor Control Board (LCB) chairwoman Sharon Foster wrote in response to opinion.

"It will also reduce the state's expectations for revenue generated from the legal system we are putting in place."

Yakima Mayor Micah Cawley emphasized that it will remain legal for adults aged 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana within city limits.

"They're just going to have to drive to Seattle or to Lower Valley cities to get the marijuana they need," he said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash.; Editing by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Michael Perry)

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Comments (6)
morbas wrote:
A rather totalitarian draconian move by local governments! Why not also alcohol prohibition and smoking bans as well? Because it infringes on declaration of freedom, inclusion of happiness, and personal self determination. Freedom is a menagerie of personal expressions, moderation is often a virtue. Find a means to accommodate perhaps as you also accommodate shops of reputable persuasion. Importantly, Cannabis is needed for those in pain (cancer, MS, fused vertebrae and others) also inflicted with eating disorders.

Jan 23, 2014 9:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
ice-9 wrote:
As in California and Oregon, the Washington communities east of the Cascade mountains are fairly conservative, and in the case of more isolated rural cities like Yakima, the conservatism is often accompanied by limited world view and racism. Yakima has a very large Hispanic farming population – about 40% of the population is Hispanic – but they mostly occupy the lower socio-economic strata of society there. There is no question in my mind that the local government, primarily white, has taken this action in part due to veiled hostility toward the Hispanic population and the outdated but lingering idea that Marijuana is a Hispanic scourge and promotes social depravity.

I’m not trying to stir it up, and it’s likely more complicated than just that, but live out here and the racism is mild but persistent, and always fairly visible just under the surface. The white people I know from Yakima have always had bad things to say about “the Mexicans”. I’m sure this influenced their decision.

Jan 23, 2014 11:37am EST  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
Municipalities that do this are not going to make the slightest difference in consumption. All they are going to do is shift revenue away from them, into the coffers of nearby cities. Visit a “dry” county in Texas some time. Liquor stores are lined up on the opposite side of the street that marks the border. The same will happen in Washington state.

Jan 23, 2014 11:49am EST  --  Report as abuse
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