Judge Rules That Cities Have Power To Ban Marijuana Sales

Aug 29, 2014

Friday’s ruling by a Pierce County judge was good news for Washington cities that want to ban marijuana stores. Yet it was also greeted with enthusiasm by supporters of the state’s marijuana legalization efforts.

There were two issues being argued in Pierce County Superior Court. Judge Ron Culpepper ruled from the bench on one of them, saying cities should be presumed to have the power under Initiative 502 to ban marijuana businesses if they don’t want them. Attorneys for the city of Fife were glad to hear that. The judge said he won’t rule on the second question, whether Washington’s new marijuana law is preempted – or trumped – by federal law. But he gave his opinion that the Controlled Substances Act doesn’t conflict with I-502.

“There is no federal preemption here. The statute itself grants the states quite a bit of authority,” said Culpepper. “The feds do not preempt the state’s authority to legislate in this area.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Pierce County ruling is good news for the viability of I-502.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Pierce County ruling is good news for the viability of I-502.
Credit Amy Radil / KUOW

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said this outcome preserves authority for local governments and could avoid a court challenge that derails Washington’s legalization effort.

“As long as the state courts continue to hold exactly as Judge Culpepper held, in other words that state law, the marijuana law, does not preempt the local jurisdictions, it gives them the flexibility of opting out,” said Ferguson. “As long as the courts continue to hold that way, you never reach the federal issue at all, you never even get to the federal courts at all, the state supreme court would be the last stop.”

He predicted this case will go directly to the Washington State Supreme Court.

With attorneys for Fife, the ACLU and the attorney general all celebrating, the only people unhappy with the decision are the aspiring marijuana business owners trying to open shop in Fife. One of them is Ted Wetherbee, who says the decision violates the intent of I-502. "I-502 was designed specifically to roll out 334 licensed retail establishments,” said Wetherbee.

Fife passed Initiative 502 with a 53% vote. But Judge Culpepper says the city’s subsequent ban doesn’t necessarily go against voter intent. He noted that people may think legalization is good, but not in their backyard.