OLYMPIA – Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson last Thursday 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.
Ferguson said the Attorney General office is intervening to defend I-502, the voter-approved initiative which allows the sale of recreational marijuana…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.”
Ferguson explained the Washington State Attorney General office is authorized by law to intervene in a lawsuit to protect the interests of the people of the state. Intervention, he said, means the Attorney General would become a party to each lawsuit and be able to participate fully in briefings, hearings and trial.
Ferguson said his office often intervenes, for example, in environmental and consumer protection cases.
Approved by voters in 2012, I-502 legalizes the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in Washington and creates a system of state licensing and regulation.
The cities of Wenatchee and Fife passed local ordinances that prohibit the operation of 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.
Ferguson said 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.
A formal opinion released by the Attorney General office 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. Ferguson said the Attorney General office 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.
The Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state, providing legal services to approximately 200 state agencies, boards and commissions.