Politics & Government

Public vote should be required for pot bans, lawmaker says

Local bans on recreational pot sales would have to go through voters under a proposal being introduced this week in the Legislature.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she plans to introduce legislation that would require voters to approve any attempt by a city or county to ban pot shops.

Under her plan, jurisdictions that now have bans or de facto bans — such as Lakewood and unincorporated Pierce County — would have to get voter approval if they want to continue barring state-licensed marijuana shops.

“My bill would not prohibit that, but it would require that any town or city or county that does that would have to put a referendum on the ballot,” Kohl-Welles said Tuesday.

Kohl-Welles said that she thinks local bans are undermining the intent of Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana use in Washington.

Last year, Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued an opinion saying nothing in I-502 prevents local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions or bans on recreational marijuana shops.

Kohl-Welles said that her proposal wouldn’t conflict with the attorney general’s reading of the law because it still allows local bans to exist with voters’ approval.

Still, some may not be happy with the proposed compromise.

Dan Roach, chairman of the Pierce County Council, said he thinks that cities and counties should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow pot shops.

Roach said placing the issue on the ballot would be an attempt to sidestep the attorney general’s opinion on the issue, and the equivalent of “punting the ball.”

“Just because it’s a tough decision doesn’t mean you punt it and send it to the voters,” Roach said Tuesday. “You’ve got to make the hard decisions out there — that’s what you’re elected for.”

Tedd Wetherbee, who has gone to court to challenge Fife’s ban on pot shops, also doesn’t think additional public votes should be required, but for a different reason. He said voters in Fife already made it clear that they support recreational pot shops when a majority of them voted in favor of I-502.

“The people have spoken,” Wetherbee said Tuesday. “Why would you spend more taxpayer money to have somebody vote on something they’ve already voted on?”

Kohl-Welles said her attempt to address local bans on marijuana shops will be part of a larger bill that aims to unify the state’s medical and recreational marijuana systems.

She said she expects to introduce the legislation Wednesday.