WASHINGTON: Marijuana legalization under Initiative 502 is a bold experiment. As attorney general, I am defending that state law rigorously. But one question threatens to unravel marijuana legalization in Washington state and, potentially, across the country: Can cities and counties ban the sale of marijuana within their local jurisdiction?
When asked to answer that important question, I reviewed the law carefully and concluded that, yes, they may. Local governments have broad authority to pass their own laws unless a state law explicitly says they can’t. Simply put, the language of I-502 does not prohibit local bans. The drafters could have included such a provision, but they did not. Many marijuana advocates were disappointed in this conclusion, but my job is to go where the law takes me, whatever the outcome.
Some I-502 supporters claim that my legal conclusion undermines marijuana legalization. In fact, while my opinion is grounded solely on an objective reading of the law, it also protects I-502.
Here’s how: Although I-502 legalized marijuana under state law, it did not change federal law. The United States still bans marijuana, and federal officials could prosecute Washington residents even if they are following I-502. Some cities and counties, in defending their bans on marijuana sales, have already argued in court that federal law completely invalidates (or “pre-empts”) I-502.