Pierce County pot limits may face court challenge

TACOMA — A Pierce County ordinance that would block licensed marijuana operations is likely to be challenged court.

Tacoma lawyer Jay Berneburg told The News Tribune that he believes the measure will be struck down.

“They want a battle,” Berneburg said. “They’re going to get one. They’re not going to win.”

A number of cities and counties around the state have adopted moratoriums seeking to prevent or delay the operation of marijuana businesses. Washington’s Liquor Control Board, which is implementing the legal pot law that voters approved last year, has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on whether such measures are legal.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said the county is well aware that there may be legal challenges to the ordinance. He said county officials will rely on federal law, which still considers marijuana a controlled substance.

“The county expects to rely on the supremacy of federal law as a defense,” Lindquist said.

The Pierce County ordinance would block recreational marijuana businesses from unincorporated areas, even if those businesses get a state license to operate. County Executive Pat McCarthy had vetoed the council’s marijuana ordinance, but the council voted last week to override that veto.

In her veto message, McCarthy noted the federal government has indicated that it won’t contest the state’s marijuana law.

“The county is an entity of the state, and we cannot pass an ordinance that is in conflict with the state,” McCarthy said.

Berneburg said he represents about 30 applicants who are seeking to operate pot businesses in Pierce County, and he expects they will sue the county if denied a permit.

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