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City responds to AG’s opinion on marijuana businesses

The state Attorney General’s opinion would reserve the right of cities such as Arlington to determine their own ordinances regarding marijuana businesses. - Courtesy photo.
The state Attorney General’s opinion would reserve the right of cities such as Arlington to determine their own ordinances regarding marijuana businesses.
— image credit: Courtesy photo.

ARLINGTON — A recently released opinion from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office ties into the city of Arlington’s pending decision on how to address the potential establishment of marijuana businesses within the city’s limits.

In response to a request from Sharon Foster, chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a formal opinion on Thursday, Jan. 16, regarding local ordinances affecting new marijuana businesses in Washington.

The opinion states, “Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in Washington state, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to preempt local authority to regulate such businesses. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions.”

“The Attorney General’s opinion confirms that the Attorney General, at least, believes that local governments can use their zoning and police powers to impose additional requirements besides those imposed by the Liquor Control Board,” said Steve Peiffle, who serves as the city attorney for the city of Arlington. “It supports the concept of additional regulations like what Arlington has been proposing.”

Paul Ellis, community and economic development director for the city of Arlington, explained that what the city’s Planning Commission is proposing is not a total ban on marijuana producers, processors or retailers, but is instead recommending that the city allow such businesses, albeit with significant zoning restrictions in addition to the state’s standards.

“A city the size of Arlington would only be allowed one marijuana retail facility, so we’d want to zone that for highway commercial or general commercial,” Ellis said. “For marijuana producers and processors, the state doesn’t regulate how many there can be, so the idea was that we’d allow those within our industrial and light industrial zoning.”

Beyond the state-dictated radiuses of schools, parks, daycares and other areas frequented by children, that such establishments cannot enter, Ellis explained that the Planning Commission is recommending additional restrictions on the sizes of marijuana production and processing facilities.

“There are three tiers of sizes that are licensed by the state,” Ellis said. “Tier 2 maxes out at 10,000 square feet or less. However, facilities which combine production and processing under one roof would be afforded up to 15,000 square feet.”

Kristin Banfield, assistant city administrator for the city of Arlington, noted that the Planning Commission already presented these draft regulations to the Arlington City Council during the Council’s workshop meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, and added that the City Council is currently scheduled to conduct a public hearing on the draft regulations on Monday, Feb. 3, after which the Council is likely to vote on the regulations during that same meeting.

“At that point, the Council will have the options to either act on the proposal or table it,” Ellis said. “If it’s approved, the existing six-month moratorium would be automatically repealed, five days after the approval of the draft regulations is publicized. We want to accommodate our voters, because they voted to legalize marijuana, but we also don’t want to have a bad impact on the existing community.”

Like her fellow first-term Arlington City Council member Jesica Stickles, Jan Schuette is deliberately refraining from making up her mind just yet, until she has more information.

“Everything is still so new on this issue,” Schuette said. “All that cities like Arlington and Marysville can do is make the best decisions they can to stay within the law, but this isn’t going away. Washington and Colorado are going to be trendsetters, I think, and influence more states to adopt such laws.”

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