Washington Marijuana Business Owners Defying Local Bans

In 2012, when Washington state voters legalized recreational cannabis, it was witnessed around the world as a landmark voter initiative. What followed was a long 19 months of rule making and lottery drawings to establish a regulated cannabis market. In July, 2014 the first legal marijuana sales began, but not every locality was open to the new law.

Between 2012-2014, one quarter of Washington towns and cities had adopted moratoriums on recreational marijuana businesses, according to the Huffington Post. The Washington Attorney General later issued an opinion stating the bans were permissible under state law, and more cities and counties have issued bans. The courts themselves have been inconsistent settling the legality of such bans. Despite these setbacks, some brave Washington business owners have decided to open their doors anyway.

The first of these ganjapreneurs to defy a local ban was Golden Dispensaries in Goldendale. The new shop opened shortly after receiving its license to operate from the Liquor and Cannabis Board on October 4, 2014. A defiant Richard Ellis alerted the city before he opened his doors. “Since we’ve opened we haven’t had any trouble except for a local church, and some of the city council.” The mayor has asked local police to leave the shop alone, Ellis says. After threatening a lawsuit, Golden Dispensaries was eventually issued a business license. They are still open today.

In Parkland — which falls under a moratorium in unincorporated Pierce County — the unique concept of an art gallery and a cannabis retail shop called The Gallery opened on March 1, 2015. Three days later the county quickly issued a notice for the shop to close. Owner Ted Weatherby refused, telling the Tacoma News Tribune he believes the notion is a “waste of taxpayer money and effort,” and that he hopes the county comes to their senses. The Gallery also remains open to this day.

The town of Clarkston issued its marijuana business ban in 2014. On Halloween that year, an attorney for Canna4Life — dressed as a Jedi — filed a lawsuit against the city and four city council members asking a judge to overturn the ban. The judge — potentially dressed as a Sith Lord — upheld the ban. Finding no relief from the courts, business owner Kelly Jackson opened the doors of Canna4Life on May 29, 2015. He was shut down a week later. Following the closure, a judge ruled in favor of the city, granting a temporary restraining order on the business. The city contends it is well within its rights to keep the shop closed. Their next hearing is on August 4th.

Dave’s Place opened on June 9th, 2015 in defiance of a ban in Sunnyside. Dave Rand’s shop was shut down the next day, due to the lack of a certificate of occupancy. The city manager Don Day told KIMA News, “There were some stipulations that needed to be met and those were never met so he doesn’t have any kind of a business license.” Dave has filed a lawsuit against the city to reopen his doors. He is currently upgrading the property in the hopes the city will grant him a business license when it is up to code.

On June 19, 2015 a cannabis retail shop opened in Yakima, ignoring a ban on recreational marijuana businesses within city limits. That same day a judge issued a show cause order, which prevented the city from closing the store. Jaime Campos told the Yakima Herald he is expressing his entrepreneurial spirit by opening his shop, Happy Time, where he previously ran a daycare with his wife. He wasn’t given long to express this spirit, however: on Monday, June 22, after “weighing their legal options,” the city took action and shut the shop down. Joe Caruso, the city Code Administration Manager, told the Yakima Herald that the order was not an injunction and that no legal barriers prevented the city from shutting down the shop. On June 26th, a judge sided with the city, and ordered the shop remain closed.

The latest recreational marijuana store to open despite a city ban is in Pasco, WA. The Lucky Leaf, owned by David Morgan, opened at the end of July. He was granted a license by the WA Liquor and Cannabis Board on July 9th, but first applied for a license in late 2013. Morgan tells the Tri-City Herald he is finally opening after the state passed a law which allows cities to share more in marijuana tax revenue. He cites this as the city’s reason for banning the shops in July 2014. He tells the Herald, “We’re hoping that they’ll change their zoning and grant us a license so we can help the city get their share of tax revenue.” It is reported the city plans to take action against the shop. However, to date the Lucky Leaf is still open with no news from the city about what action they will take.

Recent legislation aimed at reconciling issues with Washington’s marijuana marketplace could offer relief to these business owners. As part of the legislation, language was removed from the state’s marijuana laws to require that the question of marijuana bans be put to local voters, not local governments. For now, however, many recreational cannabis businesses are still unable to open across the state.

Photo Credit: Rachel Samanyi

Editor’s Note: This article was updated by the author on 8/6/2015.

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