Pot Bans in Washington State Here to Stay — Here’s Why
This week, West Richland joined the list of cities and counties banning the growth, processing and sale of recreational marijuana. That list now includes Richland, Pasco, Kennewick, Yakima, Yakima County and Wenatchee. Here's why those bans are likely here to stay.
Shortly after the 2012 election, opponents asked Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to closely examine the initiative. They wanted to know if cities and counties could enact their own pot bans. The move was made because of extreme opposition to marijuana farms, processing centers and state stores in many communities.
I-502 only passed because of Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. It was soundly defeated in 18 of the 22 counties in Eastern Washington, by an average margin of just under 60% voting. 13 of the 17 West side counties approved it.
Our picture with this story shows red counties being where it was rejected, green where it was accepted.
In January of this year, Ferguson issued a non-legally binding opinion on the matter. He said due to a loophole and the wording of the initiative, there was nothing to legally prevent a city or county from banning the pot industry within its own city limits, and he believed their cases would stand up in court.
Ferguson is hardly a champion of conservative causes, but such an opinion coming from the highest legal authority in the state spurred opponents into action.
After that ruling, we saw a domino effect across the state. Cities and counties who had adopted temporary moratoriums on whether to allow pot farms, processing centers and stores quickly passed bans. Most of these were in counties where the initiative had failed badly.
During Kennewick's September council vote to ban pot, supporters said officials were "succumbing to the fear of the unknown.," and they were subverting the 'will of the people.'
However, officials cited the crushing rejection of the initiative at the polls, especially in Southeastern Washington. Many elected officials said although it passed statewide, the majority of their own constituents don't want it here. This was a recurring theme across the counties where I-502 was defeated. These officials said they were elected to represent the people in their city and county - not the state.
Why will the bans stay in place? There are two paths pot supporters can choose. One is to challenge the pot ban in their individual city or county. So far, three people who applied for pot store licenses are suing in Fife, Wenatchee and Centralia. But they are in for a lengthy and costly court battle. Most such applicants don't have the financial resources to do this.
The only other recourse is for the ACLU, the main creators of I-502, to go back and re-write the initiative so it removes any and all such loopholes. Then, as best we can tell, it would have to be re-submitted to voters for re-approval. That's a multi-month, if not year, process. Given the delays, difficulties and issues with the state marijuana industry, mainstream tolerance and support for legal pot in our state has dropped considerably.
So, while supporters of recreational marijuana fume, fit and spit, it appears the bans passed in numerous cities and counties are here to stay.