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12/11/2013 2:52:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
I-502 backers are keeping a close eye on implementation

Ian Dunn

Cities and counties in Washington state which pass zoning regulations and other ordinances with the intent to prevent marijuana stores from opening, could be hit with lawsuits. So says Alison Holcomb, the former campaign director for I-502, now the Criminal Justice Director for the ACLU of Washington.

To date, Holcomb said they've seen a small number of cities adopt ordinances along those lines.

"Unfortunately, if an applicant receives a license from the Liquor Control Board to open a store in one of those cities, we're put in the posture of potential litigation," Holcomb said. "That private individual having the right to sue the city for adopting an ordinance is in clear conflict with state law. Under Washington State Law, that preempts the local ordinance."

The city might turn around and try to argue in response that federal law preempts state law and that may be the issue that winds of being litigated, she said. There are some things taxpayers in those cities may want to be aware of, Holcomb noted.

First, the Department of Justice is clearly not interested in litigating the federal preemption issue.

"So it is going to fall on the cities. I don't think that is something that constituents of those individual cities really want to see there tax dollars spent on," she said. "I think that would be unfortunate, because that kind of litigation calls into question whether the licenses that have been granted by other cities in compliance with state law will withstand scrutiny in the long run and it undermines the will of 56 percent of the state's voters."

If someone who received a license from the state seeks to open a store and is denied that ability by a city or county, the only option is litigation, Holcomb said. As someone who helped craft the ordinance, she finds it disappointing.

"I think it is a small number of cities that have decided that are adopting a permanent ordinance which would ban these stores. It's disappointing because it is contrary to the will of voters of the state of Washington and that is not how our system of democracy is supposed to work." she said. "The voters have spoken and I think all of the cities should acknowledge that is state law.

"And if they want to change what the law say about the ability to site a store in their city, then they should avail themselves to the legislative process, rather than forcing people in court to litigate this issue."

Up to this point, Holcomb said they have seen a lot of cities implement moratoriums, like the city of Leavenworth, putting a hold on adopting zoning ordinances and other regulatory provisions for licensing. She believes this was in part due to the uncertainty of many cities in how the federal government was going to respond.

Other cities were nervous that implementation of I-502 was going to result in a marijuana stores on every other corner and down the main street. What's happened within just the past couple months, the federal government has given a clear statement they are going to allow Washington to go forward with implementation of I-502," she pointed out.

"That alleviates some concerns that cities may have had, that they would be taking actions in conflict with federal desires," Holcomb said. "On the other front, the LCB finally adopted rules that specified just how many retail stores they intend to license throughout the state and specifically allocated those stores through the towns and cities."

She believes this gave many cities relief to know that, instead of dozens of marijuana stores opening in a city, there might be only one or two. Over the next couple months, Holcomb expects more and more cities beginning to adopt zoning ordinances and removing moratoriums and allowing applicants that received state licenses to also receive local licenses.

Some have argued the federal stance on enforcement might change with another administration in 2016. But Holcomb points out a Gallup poll which shows 58 percent Americans supporting legalization of marijuana nationwide.

Holcomb doesn't see this as an issue, where the federal government may change its position, even if the administration changes in 2016. While support for legalization traditionally has been a partisan issue with democrats supporting legalization to a larger extent that republicans, Holcomb said it is not a partisan issue when it comes to the rights of states.

"What is not a partisan issue is whether or not the federal government should respect the individual voters of the state, with respect to marijuana," she said. "Whether or not we're looking at a democratic or republican administration at the federal level in 2016, there will still be agreement the federal government should not interfere with the state's decision that it wants to try a new approach to marijuana."

Holcomb thinks the Liquor Control Board has done fantastic job, embracing this novel assignment, going above and beyond in terms of developing the rules to implement the initiative.

"I think all of us understand the rules are going to change over time. But the effort that has gone into this first version of the rules has been tremendous," she said. "I think the LCB has done an excellent job of researching the issue, including as many voices in the development of the rules, and being transparent with the public."

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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