Local preemption of WA pot laws

When CO, WA, and OR passed their initiatives to legalize marijuana use, possession, growing, and sales, there weren’t any mentions of the powers granted to local jurisdictions. Very quickly some locales passed bans or moratoriums on the facilities, and some ignored the issue. The states have been trying to align this unanticipated behavior ever since.

WA lawmakers take the approach that their state laws override the locals, which is kinda ironic because they feel the federal laws can be overridden by the state. There are a few bills in the works now that address this sticky problem.

When the state allocated licenses to retailers and growers they assumed that all the licensed entities would go into business, and generate tax revenues. If the licensee were stopped by local authorities, it would mean a reduction in those anticipated tax revenues. I sometimes refer to pot shops as “tax collection offices”, since almost half their receipts goes to the state.

The most powerful individuals in the legislature are firmly committed to fixing this, preferably by limiting the locals from an override.

California saw what was happening and adjusted the licensing process so that no state license could be issued unless the local jurisdiction had already approved and licensed the firm applying for a license. This had the happy result that the state itself was disconnected from local squabbles over the presence of “the devil’s lettuce” operations. A frequent complaint is that a state-licensed store is sited near a day-care center, which is not one of the limits in WA. Personally, I just don’t see how a four-year-old is going to be influenced by seeing a pot store near their day-care, and licensees aren’t so dumb as to sell anything to them. Some people complain about having a pot store across from a bus stop their kids use. California lawmakers and regulators get a pass on these types of complaints.

I like the CA approach, but fixing this in WA is fairly complex because of the way the laws are written. There really isn’t any possibility of the state losing it’s revenue as sales have been much, much, higher than originally planned; it’s no biggie if some ag town in eastern Washington prohibits pot stores. And if the state ceded control to the locals it would substantially reduce the hassles and workload in Olympia. There are several bills in WA attempting to fix this, but the power is trying to keep state control.

Comments are closed.