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Washington cities can ban pot shops despite state OK

A thriving marijuana plant is seen at a grow operation in Denver, Colorado December 31, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A thriving marijuana plant is seen at a grow operation in Denver, Colorado December 31, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Cities in Washington state may still opt to ban or regulate marijuana businesses within their municipal boundaries despite a voter-approved state law legalizing recreational pot, the state attorney general said on Thursday.

Washington state and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana following voter referendums in 2012, but Attorney General Robert Ferguson said in a formal opinion that the law did not require counties, cities or towns to allow such businesses to operate locally.

The opinion marked an early victory for at least three local governments that have enacted bans on pot businesses within their borders, including Pierce County, south of Seattle. More than 20 others have moratoriums in effect to keep such businesses from opening, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

In a conference call with reporters, Ferguson said that the ballot measure that Washington state voters passed to legalize recreational-use marijuana contains no language precluding local governments from banning pot businesses.

"If the drafters of the initiative wanted to preempt local authority to ban or regulate marijuana businesses, they could have done so. They did not," said Ferguson, a Democrat. "It is not my role to read language into the initiative that is not there."

Acknowledging that his opinion would likely not be the last word on the subject, Ferguson said he "would not be surprised" to see the issue resolved in the courts.

(Reporting By Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash.; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

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