Opinion

The voters have already spoken | IN OUR OPINION

  - Bainbridge Island Review photo
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Review photo

When it comes to regulating marijuana, can local governments just say no?

Last week, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said yes.

Voters across Washington approved Initiative 502 — which legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in the state — during the November 2012 election.

But in response to a question from Sharon Foster, chairwoman of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the agency in charge of regulating the business of legal marijuana production and sales, Ferguson noted that I-502 did not include a requirement within the initiative’s language that would have required cities and counties to accept marijuana businesses.

As put forth in the attorney general’s opinion, “Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers in Washington State, it 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.”

The attorney general’s office has also said that if the Legislature wants to require local governments to accept marijuana businesses, state lawmakers can do just that and amend the law.

The advice from the attorney general on the abilities of local governments to reject legal marijuana businesses within their boundaries is sound. What’s good for Seattle isn’t necessarily good for Shelton or Soap Lake.

That said, on Bainbridge Island, voters clearly showed strong enthusiasm for I-502 and legal marijuana. The pro-pot measure was approved in a landslide by Bainbridge voters, with many precincts showing support north of the 70 percent “yes” mark.

The city’s planning commission started the first of four workshops this week to consider how the city should regulate the production and sale of legal marijuana.

Though it may be tempting to just say no to every potential marijuana enterprise on the island given the attorney general’s recent opinion, city officials would be well advised to consider the outcome of the vote cast by their fellow islanders in November 2012.

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