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State attorney general seeks to join marijuana lawsuits in Fife, Wenatchee to defend I-502

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Thursday moved to intervene in three marijuana lawsuits filed against the cities of Wenatchee and Fife.

Businesses that applied for marijuana licenses have sued these cities in Chelan and Pierce County Superior Courts to challenge city ordinances that block them from operating. The Attorney General's Office (AGO) is intervening to defend Initiative 502, not to support the plaintiffs’ or cities’ positions, according to an Attorney General Office's media release.

“As attorney general, my job is to make sure the will of the people is upheld,” said Ferguson. “If any party to these lawsuits seeks to overturn state laws, my office will be there to defend the law.”

The AGO is authorized by law to intervene in a lawsuit to protect the interests of the people of the state, according to the release. Intervention means the AGO would become a party to each lawsuit and be able to participate fully in briefings, hearings and trial. The AGO often intervenes, for example, in environmental and consumer protection cases.

Approved by voters in 2012, I-502 legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in Washington and created a system of state licensing and regulation.

The cities of Wenatchee and Fife passed local ordinances that prohibit operating marijuana businesses within their cities. The plaintiffs in SMP Retail, LLC v. Wenatchee, Graybeard Holdings, LLC v. Fife and MMH, LLC v. Fife seek to invalidate these local ordinances so they can sell recreational marijuana.

Evaluating the claims in the Wenatchee and Fife lawsuits will require the courts to interpret I-502 and determine whether, under the initiative and the Washington Constitution, state law preempts local authority to legislate on this subject.

A formal opinion released by the AGO in January concluded that, as drafted, I-502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.

Some local governments that have banned marijuana businesses have said that, if sued by potential local marijuana businesses, they will argue that federal law preempts I-502. The AGO intends to intervene in such cases in the future, to ensure that I-502 is properly interpreted under state law and to defend against any claim of federal preemption.

The city of Kent has a six-month ban against any recreational marijuana businesses that expires in November. The Kent City Council is considering whether to allow the businesses in certain zones of the city. The city's Land Use and Planning Board in June voted to recommend that the council continue the ban.

The first retail stores in the state opened in July. Production and processor facilities also have opened in various cities and counties.

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