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County judge upholds Fife’s ban on pot shops

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Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper issued a ruling Aug. 29 in the case of a marijuana-based business suing the City of Fife over its ban against pot shops within the city limits.

The case drew arguments from the Attorney General's office as well as from the American Civil Liberties Union because of the city's argument that it enacted the ban because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug in the eyes of federal officials even with the state's passage of Initiative 502 that allowed pot shops.

Culpepper ruled after a summary judgment hearing that nothing in I-502 overrides local governments’ preexisting authority to regulate local businesses, including marijuana businesses through zoning or otherwise, so Fife could continue to ban pot shops.

Because the court agreed with an earlier AGO opinion that claimed I-502 did not require local governments to allow marijuana businesses, Culpepper never had to address whether federal law preempts I-502. This allows I-502 to continue to be implemented. But it also allows Fife’s ban to remain.

“My office aggressively worked to uphold the will of the voters,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Today’s ruling affirms the opinion of my office earlier this year and allows Initiative 502 to continue to be implemented in Washington State. As I have said from the beginning, the drafters of Initiative 502 could have required local jurisdictions to allow the sale of recreational marijuana. It could have been done in a single sentence, but it was not. Now, it is up to the Legislature to decide whether to require local governments to allow for the sale of marijuana.”

The plaintiffs in this case had sought to open marijuana businesses in Fife despite the city’s ban. A formal opinion released by the AGO in January 2014 concluded that, as drafted, I-502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.

The city argued that it is not required to allow such businesses under I-502. But the city also argued that if I-502 does require it to allow such businesses, then I-502 is preempted by federal law. “Federal preemption” is when federal law is determined to override state law.

The business owner, Tedd Wetherbee, plans to appeal the decision.

More than two-dozen cities and counties in the state have issued bans against marijuana retail shops within their jurisdictions.