Yakima seeks legal support for local ban on pot businesses
With an ordinance being drafted to keep marijuana businesses out of Yakima, the city has started making its case that the state can’t force localities to accept commercial-pot producers and retailers.
With a proposed ban being drafted for City Council approval, the city of Yakima is already making its case that the state can’t force localities to welcome marijuana businesses.
A 17-page letter has been sent by Yakima legal staff to the state Attorney General’s Office outlining the city’s stance on opting out of the law, which its authors say is not an option under Initiative 502.
The marijuana law was approved by voters more than a year ago, and some elements are already being implemented, such as reduced penalties for public consumption and a legal amount an adult can possess.
State and local law enforcement already are adhering to those parts of the law, but a fight looms in more conservative parts of the state over whether local jurisdictions must allow the legal sale of marijuana and products infused with THC, pot’s active ingredient.
The Attorney General’s Office asked Yakima and other local governments for feedback as it prepares a formal opinion on the question, which was posed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB). The Attorney General’s Office intends to hand down the opinion early next year.
In the letter, City Attorney Jeff Cutter said the case for banning marijuana businesses is based on the land-use regulatory authority that local jurisdictions have under the state constitution. Cutter also says that while the law establishes a maximum number of retail outlets to be assigned to counties, it doesn’t specifically apply to cities.
“This section does not, by its terms, limit the ability of a city to impose zoning restrictions on the location of such establishments,” Cutter wrote.
The city also points to the Liquor Control Board’s own lack of interest in addressing local ordinances as an example of the state recognizing the city’s zoning authority.
“In short, issuance of a license by WSLCB does not constitute approval of a marijuana production, processing, or retail facility at a location banned by the city,” Cutter wrote.
In late November, the Yakima City Council voted 4-3 to have its attorneys draft an ordinance prohibiting the growing, processing and retail sale of marijuana within the city limits. The city also has imposed a six-month moratorium for such businesses, although none are expected to open in the state until May or June at the earliest.
Council members Micah Cawley, Kathy Coffey and Sara Bristol opposed drafting a ban, but the motion passed because Councilwoman Maureen Adkison, who had sided with those three in October, changed her position. Also voting for the ban were members Rick Ensey, Bill Lover and Dave Ettl.
The council argued about the implications for the area’s youth if marijuana could be bought legally, but the dominant question in the debate was what liability the city might face if it does or doesn’t allow marijuana businesses to open.
The City Council likely could approve a ban before the Attorney General’s Office issues its opinion. Regardless of the state’s opinion, it also would remain possible for anyone who is issued a state license for a marijuana business located in the Yakima city limits to legally challenge a ban.
The state has capped the number of retail licenses at 334 across Washington. The Liquor Board plans to issue up to 14 in Yakima County: five in Yakima, one each in Selah, Sunnyside and Grandview, and six for at-large sites. There is no limit on producer and processor licenses.
Four entities have applied for marijuana licenses in Yakima so far, but only one application is for a retail location. The license application period closes Dec. 20.