Three Ways the Fife Decision Could Affect Your Legal Weed

The fate of legal pot in Washington could be determined by Fife, of all places. As our own Ellis Conklin has reported, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Culpepper is expected to begin hearing arguments this week in MMH, LLC v. City of Fife, a lawsuit in which would-be weed retailers are hoping to overturn a ban on marijuana operations the council enacted there back in July. In response, Fife has argued that federal marijuana laws pre-empt state law. How Judge Culpepper answers that simple question could determine whether legal pot will survive in our state. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, meanwhile, has said he believes I-502 did not take away local governments’ power to regulate or ban marijuana businesses, but worries that if courts decide that federal law pre-empts state law, the decision “could eviscerate” I-502. Here are the three possible decisions, and what they’ll mean.

Slight bummer First of all, it’s important to note that whatever happens in Fife is likely to be appealed to a higher court—meaning the case, in theory, could make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That said, if a judge decides that Fife is within its right to opt out of weed sales, it will prove Ferguson correct and the question of whether or not federal law pre-empts Washington’s pot law can go unanswered—at least for now. “The easiest thing the judge can do is to allow the City of Fife to opt out of the law. That would be a victory for my clients,” City of Fife attorney Loren Combs tells Seattle Weekly.
Doomsday! If the court decides state law prevents local bans, but federal law pre-empts state law, it would be a devastating blow to legalization proponents, effectively destroying the recreational weed world created under I-502. “If the court finds I-502 is preempted by federal law, and it is upheld on appeal, the marijuana-legalization effort will be destroyed,” Ferguson tells Seattle Weekly. In case you’ve forgotten, the feds still consider pot illegal.
It’s cool For the ACLU of Washington and I-502 architect Alison Holcomb, the best possible outcome would be a declaration that state law prevents local bans and federal law does not pre-empt state law—i.e., Washington’s new pot law is not overruled by federal regulations, and cities like Fife must allow state-licensed weed operations to operate within their jurisdictions. Big win! If this happens, expect appeals. One thing all sides seem to agree on is that the Legislature could easily clarify how I-502 interacts with local laws. “Ultimately, the state legislature should take up the opt-out issue,” explains Holcomb. She’s probably right.

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