Lawmakers warns cities not to freeze out pot shops

SEATTLE — Some Washington lawmakers concerned about a possible pot-business freeze-out want to keep cities and towns from adopting marijuana-business bans.

On Tuesday, 10 representatives in the House — nine Democrats and one Republican — introduced a bill in Olympia that would require cities and counties to cooperate with state regulators in allowing licensed recreational marijuana gardens, processing facilities and stores within their jurisdictions.

Local governments would have to treat those enterprises the same as any other business that attempts to locate within their boundaries, and they’d be barred from having zoning or other regulations that impede the establishment of pot businesses.

Those that don’t comply could lose their share of disbursements from a state liquor-license account.

Washington voters legalized the sale of recreational marijuana to adults over 21 in 2012. Some jurisdictions, including unincorporated Pierce County, Lakewood and Wenatchee, have effective bans on pot businesses, because their local ordinances require businesses to follow state, federal and local law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Nearly three dozen of the state’s 75 biggest cities, from Redmond to Pullman, have adopted moratoriums of up to a year on marijuana businesses, according to a recent study by a Seattle-based marijuana think tank called The Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. Some have been dropping those temporary bans as they adopt zoning regulations for pot-related businesses.

The state Liquor Control Board has worried that bans and moratoriums could create access problems in some communities that will make it difficult to channel marijuana users from the black market and into the regulated, taxed one.

It has asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion on whether cities and counties have the authority to bar the businesses from opening. Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said that opinion is expected to be released soon.

Neither the board nor the Association of Washington Cities immediately returned messages seeking comment about the bill.

Sales of marijuana to adults over 21 began Jan. 1 in Colorado, the only other state to legalize pot for recreation. Washington’s stores are expected to open in late spring.

The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma. The Republican sponsor is Rep. Gary Condotta of East Wenatchee.

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