Friday, January 17, 2014
Some law enforcement officers in Washington state, including the current and former sheriffs of King County, supported the voter-approved initiative that legalized marijuana.
A major reason those fighting crime favored making pot legal was to reduce, if not eliminate, the underground business in the state. If Washingtonians can simply go to a state-authorized store for some weed, the criminal drug market would dry up.
But Thursday’s declaration by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson that individual cities and counties can ban the growing, processing and selling of recreational marijuana could result in a boost in street drug sales. If it’s legal to use, people who want it will find it a place to buy it — and someone will provide it.
Before the attorney general’s opinion (and it is just an opinion at this point) the state Liquor Control Board was operating under the assumption participation was not optional.
The LCB, in charge of implementing Initiative 502, is currently processing more than 7,000 applications for pot-business licenses. The agency had planned to license 334 marijuana stores statewide.
It established a certain number of store licenses in all 39 counties, including four in Walla Walla, with the idea that the law would be effective only if all Washingtonians had reasonable access to recreational pot. I-502 calls for the LCB to minimize the illicit pot market.
The AG’s opinion is not the last word on the matter. Lawsuits will be filed, and the courts will ultimately interpret the law. It’s possible legal action could come from the originators of I-502.
The chief author of the initiative, Alison Holcomb, said she disagrees with Fergusons’ interpretation of the law.
Holcomb said the law did not specifically address opting out by cities and counties because it was seen as redundant. The law calls for giving state officials the authority to determine the maximum number of stores per county to ensure consumers have adequate access to pot.
“You can’t say counties are allowed to ban businesses without conflict with the provision that there be adequate access,” she said.
Perhaps, but when attorneys start debating laws line by line, word by word, laws change and unintended consequences emerge.
We did not favor approval of I-502, but since it was approved by voters we believe it should be implemented as intended. Local bans will create problems for citizens and law enforcement.
So if Ferguson’s interpretation of the law ultimately stands, the Legislature needs to amend the law to fix the flaws (as it is now considering) or repeal it.