A small Washington community whose leaders are trying to recriminalize weed statewide won an initial victory in court in late August, though they didn’t convince a judge to overturn the law that makes marijuana legal.

Washington Marijuana MapPierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper ruled that Initiative 502, the law that legalized pot, doesn’t prevent the small city of Fife from banning legal cannabis stores.

Culpepper issued the ruling Aug. 29 after listening to arguments on both sides of the dispute. Fife’s leaders claim they have the right to ban pot shops, and the ruling supported their argument.

“Fife’s ordinance is not pre-empted by I-502 or other state law,” the judge said.

The ban stands, at least until the case reaches the appellate courts, but city leaders didn’t get a decision on another claim: that the legal weed law conflicts with federal law and should be overturned.

Fife and its officials have taken it upon themselves to determine law for the rest of the state. The issue has already been litigated at the ballot box, but like most other marijuana opponents, the fine people of Fife refuse to admit when they’re beat.

Tedd Wetherbee, a local cannabis entrepreneur, wants to open a store in Fife but the city won’t let him. He sued, and he said he’d appeal Culpepper’s ruling.

Voters legalized weed in Washington two years ago, and the first pot shops opened in July. As in Colorado, the program has run into few problems – except the decision by the leaders of 28 cities and two counties to ban legal pot.

Fife’s lawyers said I-502 doesn’t overturn the city’s zoning authority. Weatherbee’s attorneys said the bans would undermine I-502 and the system of legal pot stores. Culpepper rejected that argument.

Allowing the ban to stand in Fife, a city of five square miles and fewer than 10,000 residents, wouldn’t interfere with what voters wished, Culpepper said. The judge didn’t say whether his ruling would apply to larger communities, many of which have banned marijuana sales.

The battle over Fife is important, but the truly dangerous part of the city’s argument is that the state law conflicts with federal statutes and should be struck down. Fife’s leaders are actively trying to thwart the will of the majority.

Culpepper said in an offhand comment that he didn’t think I-502 conflicts with federal law, but he didn’t rule on the question. The possibility that legalization might be nullified drew widespread attention.

cannabisWashington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said communities can use their local zoning codes to prevent pot shops from opening. But he said the federal Controlled Substances Act doesn’t pre-empt I-502 and called Fife’s arguments “a significant threat to the implementation of Initiative 502.”

Alison Holcomb, a lawyer with the state’s branch of the ACLU, wrote the law that legalized dope. She said she hopes lawmakers will intervene. Washington Rep. Chris Hurst, a Democrat and head of the state House committee that regulates the weed industry, said the Legislature might move to undo the bans unless the Washington Supreme Court overrules Culpepper by the start of next year.

“If you carve out large chunks of the state and say they are able to pre-empt state law, you’ll have pockets where the criminal element flourishes,” Hurst said.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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