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Washington attorney general to fight legal grounds for city pot bans

OLYMPIA – Washington state wants to join a couple of legal battles between some potential pot businesses and cities that won’t let them open inside their boundaries.

But Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the state wouldn’t be siding strictly with one side or the other. It hopes to argue that cities have the right to ban such businesses under state law, even if they have licenses from the state Liquor Control Board, but cities can’t use the excuse that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Legal challenges have been filed to city ordinances in Wenatchee and Fife that ban marijuana businesses. “We will oppose any argument that federal law pre-empts Initiative 502,” Ferguson said, referring to the 2012 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.

A court ruling that federal law pre-empts state law that establishes a system to produce, sell and use recreational marijuana could affect other cities that allow the businesses to operate, Ferguson said. That could “undermine the will of the voters,” he said.

The attorney general can ask to intervene in cases filed by other entities in an effort to protect the voters’ interests. If a court agrees, the state would be able to file motions, appear at hearings and make arguments. A hearing in the challenge to the Fife ban is set for Aug. 29.

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