| OLYMPIA, Wash.
OLYMPIA, Wash. Jan 23 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 Jan. 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
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
"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)