Marijuana legalization proponents vow to challenge Pierce County’s bid not to sell pot

Peninsula Daily News and The Associated Press

TACOMA — A Pierce County ordinance that blocks licensed marijuana operations even if the state licenses those operations is likely to be challenged in court.

Tacoma lawyer Jay Berneburg told The News Tribune that he believes the measure will be struck down.

“They want a battle,” Berneburg said. “They’re going to get one. They’re not going to win.”

A number of cities and counties around the state — including the city of Port Townsend — has adopted moratoriums seeking to prevent or delay the operation of marijuana businesses.

The state’s Liquor Control Board, which is implementing the marijuana-legalization initiative that voters approved last year, has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on whether such measures are legal.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said the county is aware that there might be legal challenges to the ordinance.

He said county officials rely on federal law, which still considers marijuana a controlled substance.

“The county expects to rely on the supremacy of federal law as a defense,” Lindquist said.

The Pierce County ordinance would block recreational marijuana businesses from unincorporated areas, even if those businesses get a state license to operate. County Executive Pat McCarthy had vetoed the council’s marijuana ordinance, but the council voted last week to override that veto.

In her veto message, McCarthy noted the federal government has indicated that it won’t contest the state’s marijuana law.

“The county is an entity of the state, and we cannot pass an ordinance that is in conflict with the state,” McCarthy said.

Berneburg said he represents about 30 applicants who are seeking to operate pot businesses in Pierce County, and he expects they will sue the county if denied a permit.

In Port Townsend, the City Council approved a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana licenses in August that is set to expire Feb. 5.

In keeping with last year’s voter-approved Initiative 502, which legalized pot for adults 21 and older, the city will be allowed to license one retail outlet within the city limit.

But its location is uncertain due to the dual requirements of operating within business districts but outside of a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools, parks and transit centers.

As a result, an extension of the moratorium is possible.

The Planning Commission did not make a formal recommendation to extend the moratorium during a meeting last week, but all those present said they agreed in principle with an extension.

Peninsula quotas

While there is no limit on the number of growers and processors, the state has capped the number of retail licenses that will be issued in each jurisdiction.

Clallam County will be allowed six retail outlets: two in the city of Port Angeles, one in Sequim and three others anywhere else in the county.

Jefferson County will get four retail outlets: the one in the city of Port Townsend and three anywhere else in the county.

A lottery will be held if the number of retail applications exceeds the number of licenses allowed.

Last modified: December 15. 2013 5:37PM
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