Attorney General vows to defend I-502

A legal case before the Pierce County Superior Court this month may impact potential pot bans in Auburn and Pacific.

On Aug. 29, Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper expects to hear arguments in MMH, LLC v. Fife. The case pits a business owner who hopes to open a retail marijuana store – in accordance with Initiative-502, which in 2012 legalized recreational marijuana in Washington State – within the city of Fife, which has banned all marijuana businesses.

On Monday, the Washington Attorney General's Office filed a brief with the court.

"This case presents a significant threat to the implementation of Initiative 502," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "My office will continue to vigorously defend I-502 and uphold the will of the voters."

Fife argues that under I-502, it is not required to allow marijuana businesses, and that if it is so required, federal law, which still lists marijuana as an illegal drug, preempts the initiative.

The AGO intervened in this case to defend I-502 and its proper interpretation, asking the court to "invalidate Fife's ordinance" because it preempts the state's authority to set penalties for violations of the controlled substances act.

According to the Revised Code of Washington 69.50.608: "Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of the city, town, county, or municipality."

To protect the voter's will, the ACLU of Washington has also entered the fray, intervening in the case as it has in others filed by marijuana businesses in Chelan County, Tacoma and the City of Pacific.

"We are intervening in this case to ensure that Washington's marijuana law goes forward as the voters intended when they adopted it," said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington criminal justice director and the author of I-502, the state's marijuana law.

"Federal law does not preempt our state's marijuana law, nor can individual cities opt out of state law," Holcomb said.

The Pacific City Council is in the process of deciding whether to allow marijuana businesses or permanently ban them, which would block the efforts of the Downtown Cannabis Company The Washington State Liquor Control Board granted the business a license to operate in March of 2014, and its ownership hopes to open a processing and production facility in the city.

On Monday, James Dusek, the principle of Downtown Cannabis Company, filed a declaration in support of the ACLU's motion to intervene, writing, "I am very concerned that a ruling by this Court that cities can ban state-licensed marijuana businesses will push the Pacific City Council in the direction of adopting the new draft ban ordinance under consideration..."

The Pierce County Superior Court hears cross-motions in the MMH, LLC. v. Fife case on Aug. 29.

The Pacific City Council hosts a public hearing about its potential pot ordinances, including a possible ban, on Sept. 8.

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