TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A state judge said Friday that a small city can continue to ban state-licensed marijuana businesses, in a case with big implications for Washington's experiment in legal pot.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper issued the ruling after extensive arguments over whether Initiative 502, the voter-approved state law that legalizes adults' recreational use of marijuana, left any room for such local bans.
The case concerned a ban in the Tacoma suburb of Fife. Would-be pot proprietor Tedd Wetherbee sued, saying he was entitled to do business but the city wasn't letting him. Culpepper disagreed.
"Fife's ordinance is not pre-empted by I-502 or other state law," he said in an oral ruling.
Wetherbee said he'd appeal.
Washington's experiment is built around the notion that it can bring marijuana out of the black market and into a regulated system that protects public health and safety better than prohibition did. Advocates say local bans threaten the state's ability to do that.
Besides the 28 cities and two counties that have banned pot shops, scores more have issued long-running moratoriums preventing the stores from opening while officials review zoning and other issues.
Fife's lawyers argued that nothing in the state law overruled cities' zoning authority, while Wetherbee's attorneys insisted that if local governments can ban licensed growers, processor and sellers, it would undermine voters' desire to displace illegal pot sales.
Culpepper said Wetherbee did not prove that banning pot shops in such a small city — 5 square miles and fewer than 10,000 people — would thwart the will of the voters; there are shops open in neighboring Tacoma.
The analysis might be different for bans in Pierce County or other more populous or larger parts of the state, Culpepper suggested.
The case posed a serious threat to Washington's entire system for regulating marijuana. Fife had asked the judge, if he struck down the city's ban, to consider whether the state law should be invalidated as incompatible with marijuana's prohibition under federal law.
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