Ban on pot bans passing through the Legislature

THE NEWS TRIBUNE (TACOMA)February 5, 2014 

Lawmakers took steps Wednesday to further address whether or not local governments can choose to ban licensed marijuana businesses.

A compromise that emerged out of a House committee Wednesday would give local governments a cut of marijuana tax revenues while requiring them to go along with the state-wide initiative that legalized recreational pot use.

The passage of Initiative 502 in 2012 paved the way for the legalization and regulation of the sale of marijuana. In January, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the initiative didn’t prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses within their jurisdictions. However, the Legislature could pass legislation preventing local jurisdictions from enacting bans on pot businesses.

Substitute House Bill 2144 passed out of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee Wednesday morning. The legislation would create the Local Jurisdiction Fund, where 20 percent of retail excise tax on marijuana would be collected and distributed back to the local governments where the sale occurred. It would also prevent local jurisdictions from creating bans on marijuana businesses.

Chair of the committee Rep. Chris Hurst, a Democrat from Enumclaw, said he feels that the Legislature needs to address whether or not local governments can ban marijuana businesses. Some local governments have already passed ordinances prohibiting licensed marijuana businesses from operating.

Hurst said that local jurisdictions are making a significant error by trying to ban marijuana businesses. He said that bans would lead to criminal markets flourishing next to cities with regulated markets.

"I think it’s critical that we address the preemption issue right now, here today," Hurst said. "I-502 doesn’t work unless it works everywhere."

Substitute House Bill 2144, introduced by Republican Rep. Cary Condotta of East Wenatchee, incorporates House Bill 2638, introduced by Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie of Vancouver, into the proposal. House Bill 2638 called for the establishment of state preemptive laws to prohibit local governments from creating bans on pot businesses. If the new compromise bill passes, local laws banning marijuana sales would be unenforceable.

The new substitute bill passed out of the committee 9-0, with bipartisan support. Condotta said the legislation is one of the most important bills to come out of the committee, as it determines the fate of Initiative 502.

"This has to be a statewide program, and I think it does have to offer some incentive for the local governments to administer,” Condotta said.

Substitute House Bill 2144 must now pass through a fiscal committee, where it will be decided if it goes to the House floor for a vote.

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