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
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
Yakima joins at least three other Washington state local governments — Pierce County and the cities of Wenatchee and Mossyrock — with
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.
[to top of second column]
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)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.