Editorial: Cities and counties need to follow state’s progress on marijuana policy
Municipal defiance is undermining the foundation of the state’s legal marijuana law.
Seattle Times Editorial
THIRTEEN counties and more than half of Washington’s 100 largest cities have banned or enacted moratoriums on recreational marijuana stores since voters authorized them in 2012.
Pierce, Yakima, Walla Walla, Whatcom and Jefferson counties have shunned legal marijuana stores allowed under Initiative 502, as have Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Yakima and all three Tri-Cities. The map of non-green jurisdictions, compiled by the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center, grows by the day.
In a test case of this municipal defiance, a Pierce County Superior Court judge last week upheld a ban imposed by Fife. That case is likely headed to the state Supreme Court. Similar lawsuits, including one challenging Pierce County’s prohibition, are also twisting through the courts.
This trend erodes the foundation of Washington’s new approach to marijuana, which sought to replace black-market dealers with a rational, regulated industry. The municipal leaders voting to ban stores may say they’re protecting children, but the status quo of prohibition has hardly kept pot out of high schools. These city and county bans are overt endorsements of a failed status quo.
The trend also strikes at the foundation of our system of government, as Rebecca Francik, a Pasco councilmember, said when her city moved toward a ban last spring.
“The argument that individual counties can selectively choose which state laws they wish to obey leads to chaos and inefficiency for our citizens,” she said. “I think that when a city council votes to substitute their personal wisdom over the vote of a democratically certified election, we are taking a step away from democracy.”
Voters in these cities and counties defying the will of the voters should take note. They should elect leaders who follow their will. Leaders in Fife, where a majority endorsed I-502, should be worried.
The question for the state is how to respond. The Legislature, when it reconvenes in January, must address this defiance or risk the integrity of I-502. It can choose the carrot or the stick approach — incentivizing municipalities to allow stores with a skim of marijuana excise taxes, or shoving cities and counties into compliance by imposing state pre-emption over store siting.
The carrot is the better approach, so long as revenue-sharing doesn’t eat away at the initiative’s dedicated funding for marijuana addiction prevention.
Coercing reluctant corners of the state would stiffen resistance. Coax the cities and counties to come into the 21st century and a new approach to drug-control policy.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).
Information in this article, originally published Sept. 10, 2014, was corrected Sept. 11, 2014. A previous version of this story included a map that incorrectly identified Lewis County as Pierce County.