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Washington State Attorney General to defend marijuana initiative

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office will vigorously defend I-502, the initiative legalizing marijuana, against an argument raised by the city of Fife. The city claims that the state law is invalid because it conflicts with federal law. If a court accepts that argument and it is upheld on appeal, it would mean the end of the state system for legal marijuana sales in Washington.

Last week the AGO moved to intervene in cases in Fife and Wenatchee challenging those cities’ bans on marijuana businesses. The AGO intervened to ensure a proper interpretation of I-502 and to defend against any argument that federal law preempts I-502. On July 31, Fife filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, among other things, that federal law preempts I-502.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan is expected to hear arguments in the case on August 29. Emphasizing his commitment to make every effort to defend the will of the voters in enacting I-502, Attorney General Bob Ferguson directed Solicitor General, Noah Purcell, to present oral arguments for the state.

The first question for the court will be whether I-502 overrides local zoning rules and requires local governments to allow marijuana businesses. If the court agrees with the formal opinion issued by the AGO in January 2014 concluding that I-502 does not override local zoning requirements, the case will be resolved and Fife’s federal preemption argument will become irrelevant. (The AGO issued the formal opinion in response to a request from the Liquor Control Board. Read more about that opinion and the opinion process, here.)

If the court disagrees with the AGO’s opinion and decides I-502 requires local governments to allow marijuana businesses, then the court must decide whether I-502 is preempted by federal law. If the court finds I-502 is preempted by federal law, and it is upheld on appeal, the marijuana legalization effort would be destroyed.

“As Attorney General, my job is to make sure the will of the people is upheld,” said Ferguson. “This case and others like it threaten the heart of Initiative 502. We want to participate in all cases like this to defend the will of the voters.”

“Attorney General Ferguson is the lawyer for the people of Washington,” said Washington State Senator Jamie Pedersen, a lawyer who supported I-502. “The voters passed I-502 and it is his job to defend it. I am grateful that Ferguson is getting involved in the Fife case to protect our voters’ decisions.”

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.

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