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Attorney General Bob Ferguson moved to intervene in three marijuana lawsuits

Attorney General Bob Ferguson today moved to intervene in three marijuana lawsuits filed against the cities of Wenatchee and Fife. Businesses that applied for marijuana licenses have sued these cities in Chelan and Pierce County Superior Courts to challenge city ordinances that block them from operating. The AGO is intervening to defend Initiative 502, not to support the plaintiffs’ or cities’ positions.

“As Attorney General, my job is to make sure the will of the people is upheld,” said Ferguson. “If any party to these lawsuits seeks to overturn state laws, my office will be there to defend the law.”

The AGO is authorized by law to intervene in a lawsuit to protect the interests of the people of the state. Intervention means the AGO would become a party to each lawsuit and be able to participate fully in briefings, hearings and trial. The AGO often intervenes, for example, in environmental and consumer protection cases.

Approved by voters in 2012, I-502 legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in Washington and created a system of state licensing and regulation.

The cities of Wenatchee and Fife passed local ordinances that prohibit operating marijuana businesses within their cities. The plaintiffs in SMP Retail, LLC v. Wenatchee, Graybeard Holdings, LLC v. Fife and MMH, LLC v. Fife seek to invalidate these local ordinances so they can sell recreational marijuana.

Evaluating the claims in the Wenatchee and Fife lawsuits will require the courts to interpret I-502 and determine whether, under the initiative and the Washington Constitution, state law preempts local authority to legislate on this subject. Aformal opinion released by the AGO in January 2014 concluded that, as drafted, I-502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.

Some local governments that have banned marijuana businesses have said that, if sued by potential local marijuana businesses, they will argue that federal law preempts I-502. The AGO intends to intervene in such cases in the future, to ensure that I-502 is properly interpreted under state law and to defend against any claim of federal preemption.

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