City responds to AG’s opinion on marijuana businesses

The state Attorney General’s opinion would reserve the right of cities such as Marysville to determine their own ordinances regarding marijuana businesses.— image credit: Courtesy photo.
The state Attorney General’s opinion would reserve the right of cities such as Marysville to determine their own ordinances regarding marijuana businesses.
— image credit: Courtesy photo.

By Kirk Boxleitner, Marysville Globe

MARYSVILLE — A recently released opinion from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office ties into the city of Marysville’s pending decision on how to address the potential establishment of marijuana businesses within the city’s limits.

In response to a request from Sharon Foster, chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a formal opinion on Thursday, Jan. 16, regarding local ordinances affecting new marijuana businesses in Washington.

The opinion states, “Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in Washington state, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to preempt local authority to regulate such businesses. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions.”

Grant Weed, who serves as the city attorney for the city of Marysville, sounded a qualified note of optimism, even as he sought to clarify what this development actually means for the city.

“The Attorney General’s opinion is just that — an opinion,” Weed said. “It’s not legally binding, and while the courts tend to give deference to the Attorney General’s opinions, neither the courts nor the cities of the state are bound to them. That being said, the Attorney General’s Office has very skilled lawyers whom I don’t doubt answered many questions that were posed to them about this issue, so I’m not questioning this outcome, which gives the cities of Marysville and Arlington guidance on the options that are available to them.”

While Weed emphasized that no final decision has been made regarding the production, processing or sales of marijuana in the city of Marysville, he did acknowledge that the city’s Planning Commission voted by a 4-to-2 margin on Tuesday, Jan. 14, to recommend to the Marysville City Council that they prohibit all three within the city limits.

Marysville City Council member Steve Muller brings with him a certain measure of experience in such affairs, since he previously served as a member of the Planning Commission, but he was not inclined to either second-guess the Planning Commission’s judgement or even offer a definitive opinion of his own yet.

“There’s still a lot of gray areas here, and I wouldn’t want to see them worked out in Marysville’s backyard,” Muller said. “I don’t know how this all will fall out. I do question some of the assumptions about the tax revenues that this will generate, because if the product winds up costing more, it could become less competitive with what’s sold on the streets. This is a new industry, so we’re still seeing how this will play out. My position is, if we’re going to do something, let’s take the time to do it right the first time.”

Kamille Norton is the newest Marysville City Council member, having been appointed in February and elected in November of last year, and she sounded an even more deliberately neutral note than Muller.

“I’m waiting to review the Planning Commission’s recommendation for myself, and until then, I’m staying open-minded,” Norton said. “I do think the interim moratorium was the correct course of action to allow us time to study and explore this issue.”

Norton reported having spoken to a number of citizens and business owners on this subject, and regardless of their opinions, she described them as passionate about the matter.

While no set date has been released yet for the Marysville City Council to decide on this issue, Weed predicted it would be scheduled within the next several weeks, in February or March at the latest.

In 2012, I-502 passed statewide with 55.7 percent “Yes” votes. Locally it received 178,669 “Yes” votes out of 327,303 votes cast, or 54.59 percent of the vote in Snohomish County, and Marysville voters approved it by a slightly narrower margin, with 13,037 “Yes” votes out of 25,523 votes cast, or 51.07 percent of the vote.