State marijuana regulators received more than 800 applications to grow, process, and sell cannabis in the first week of the application window, which runs from November 18 until mid-December. But many of those pot entrepreneurs will face challenges—not from the state, but from local governments that are attempting to block them from opening their doors.
In a legislative committee hearing last week, state lawmakers were particularly concerned with jurisdictions that oppose these legal pot companies. More than 50 cities—including Vancouver, Kent, and Issaquah—have enacted bans on cannabis businesses. But that's not the state's problem, Washington State Liquor Control Board director Rick Garza told the committee. The state intends to issue a license to any qualified applicant, regardless of a city's moratorium on pot businesses, and let the cities defend themselves from lawsuits from licensees.
"We will issue licenses regardless of bans or moratoriums in those communities and wait and see what the response is," said Garza. In other words, it's not the state's job to defend possibly illegal moratoriums—and anti-pot cities are on their own. He adds that the agency has participated in several trainings to help council members get over their issues.
In dozens of the cities and counties with moratoriums, council members intended to buy time to enact specific cannabis zoning regulations. But others seem intent on undermining the will of voters, who approved the marijuana-legalization law last November.
Earlier this month, the Pierce County Council banned pot businesses so long as the federal government outlaws marijuana. "We should not be thumbing our nose at the law of the land," said council chair Joyce McDonald. But Pierce County executive Pat McCarthy vetoed that pot ban on Monday, citing concern for the "legal risk" the council was taking and saying, "The voters of Washington State have spoken."
Cities and counties have three months before the state expects to issue pot business licenses. Those that try to stop pot businesses could be sued—and the state, obviously, doesn't intend to help them.