Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
In another chapter in the switch of Washington State from waging a war on drugs to marijuana “regulator” the legislature has introduced a bill to punish cities or counties that ban recreational marijuana retailers and another bill rewarding them if they fall in line and allow it. Does this represent an overstepping of the ordinance making authority of local governments?
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a non-binding opinion proffering the voter approved initiative legalizing the regulated sale and taxation of marijuana contains language that would effectively allow city and county governments to adopt rules stricter than what state law now provides: “Although (the law) 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 pre-empt local authority to regulate such businesses,” the opinion stated and also mentions the questionability of the law and state pre-emption.
Some who have purchased marijuana licenses indicated they plan to sue the state if they are denied licenses by localities after the state sold them the right to engage in the marijuana business in a designated territory.
According to news reports nearly three dozen of the state’s 75 biggest cities, from Redmond to Pullman, have adopted moratoriums of up to a year on marijuana businesses, according to a recent study by a Seattle-based marijuana think tank called The Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. Some have been dropping those temporary bans as they adopt zoning regulations for pot-related businesses, Some jurisdictions, including unincorporated Pierce County, Lakewood and Wenatchee, have effective bans on pot businesses, because their local ordinances require businesses to follow state, federal and local law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
To address the possible of issues of localities not being part of the marijuana family business the legislature introduced the carrot of House Bill 2144 which according to the bill’s digest, “(r)equires distribution by the liquor control board of a specified percentage of marijuana excise tax revenues to local jurisdictions.” and the stick of House Bill 2322 that “(r)equires cities, counties, and towns to cooperate with the liquor control board with respect to the establishment within their jurisdictional boundaries of licensed businesses involved in the production, processing, or sale of recreational marijuana.”
HB2144 allows for the sharing of a piece of the marijuana action by allowing localities to receive from the state some of the excise taxes and sales taxes that under current law would be otherwise be used by the state.
HB2322 provides the muscle to bring noncompliant localities in line, preventing the distribution of revenue collected from Liquor Taxes to be distributed to them. The bill reads that “(t)ransfers of funds to local governments from the liquor revolving fund are subject to the provisions of section 1 of this act. Local governments are ineligible to receive such funding if the liquor control board determines that the local government is noncompliant with the requirements of section 1 of this act.” It also reads: “All transfers of funds to local governments from the liquor excise tax fund are subject to the provisions of section 1 of this act. Local governments are ineligible to receive such funding if the liquor control board determines that the local government is noncompliant with the requirements of section 1 of this act.”
The concerning part of this also is how The Commission consisting of three unelected and appointed liquor board commissioners can decide a city or a county is noncompliant and revoke them of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue due to the city councils and county commissioners passing ordinances The Commission disapproves of; effectively negating the local process of government to chose some ordinances they might arbitrarily consider noncompliant. This brings considerable leverage to a fourth branch of government.
In a written statement, Washington State Liquor Board Chairwoman Sharon Foster said “If some local governments impose bans it will impact public safety by allowing the current illicit market to continue. It will also reduce the state’s expectations for revenue generated from the legal system we are putting in place.”
It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.
Darren Smith, Weekend Blogger
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