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Washington State Court of Appeals Upholds Local Cannabis Bans

A three-judge panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals has ruled that local unincorporated jurisdictions in Washington have the right to ban cannabis businesses within their borders.

The case involved Emerald Enterprises LLC, who opened a retail cannabis shop in unincorporated Clarke County. They argued the state law legalizing cannabis for adult use overruled the local bans. The court disagreed. In a unanimous opinion, the judges affirmed a lower court ruling, indicating the County had the right to ban businesses on the basis that I-502, the 2012 legalization initiative, did not specifically compel counties to allow the production, processing or selling of cannabis in their jurisdictions. The ruling parallels Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s 2014 legal opinion that counties have the right to ban cannabis businesses.

In a statement issued after the decision, AG Ferguson said, “I have said from the beginning: if the Legislature or the drafters of Initiative 502 had intended to require local jurisdictions to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, they could have done so in a single sentence. They did not.”

The bans have been around since the beginning of Washington’s adult-use experiment and, with six counties and 80 cities implementing bans, they have an effect on the Washington cannabis market. Since the decision, counties like Yakima are already seeking abatements to enter and shut down the twenty-six cannabis businesses in their county.

Emerald Enterprises plans to appeal to the State Supreme Court, which may stall action by the counties.

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