The no pot smoking sign is flickering.
While Washington State is gearing up to begin sales of recreational marijuana later this spring, some local municipalities say that regardless of the new law, they will not allow marijuana commerce to take place in their neck of the woods.
The catalyst for this obvious backlash against a 2012 statewide voter-approved marijuana referendum appears to stem from comments made earlier this month by Attorney General Robert Ferguson, who essentially established a trap door for local governments with conservative politics to use as a means for escaping the progressive nature of Washington State’s newfound marijuana laws.
"Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances," said Ferguson in a formal written opinion. "Initiative 502... 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."
Of course, with the advent of Ferguson’s non-binding escape hatch, it did not take long before some local lawmakers began scouring for support in hopes of taking advantage of the loophole. In fact, Yakima, the state’s eighth largest city with a population of 93,000, was the first local government to seek redemption, voting last week 6-1 in favor of a banning all aspects of the marijuana trade within its city limits.
Yakima officials say that while the voters of Washington State may have legalized marijuana, it remains classified as a dangerous Schedule I controlled substance in the eyes of Uncle Sam.
"There is a federal law against it," said Yakima City Council member Bill Lover, who voted in support of the ban. "I don't buy into somebody saying that we're just going to ignore that law."
State officials say that giving local governments the opportunity to opt out of the recreational marijuana market will create a multitude of problems including sustained black market sales and loss of tax revenue.
"If some local governments impose bans it will impact public safety by allowing the current illicit market to continue," said Washington state Liquor Control Board chairperson Sharon Foster. "It will also reduce the state's expectations for revenue generated from the legal system we are putting in place."
Drug policy experts say that while Colorado’s marijuana laws have clear language giving local governments the right to institute stoner free communities, Washington’s laws are not as well-defined.
“If legalization advocates just took a little bit more time and were not so obsessed with doing this at a thousand miles per hour, it might be better. Instead, they are helping precipitate a backlash,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
In addition to Yakima, Clark County is also considering joining the ban against recreational marijuana businesses, as well as Pierce County, which is the most populated region in the state.
There is speculation that local governments refusing to enable legal marijuana commerce within their jurisdiction may be subject to penalties from the state. However, officials in Yakima say they consider tax revenue generated from the sale of marijuana to be a stain on society. “There’s some money that’s not worth getting,” said one Yakima City Council member.
Mike Adams writes for stoners and smut enthusiasts in High Times, Playboy’s The Smoking Jacket and Hustler Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @adamssoup and on Facebook/mikeadams73.