While many areas of Washington State are seeing a surge in marijuana sales, one county has had their decision to ban the sale of the drug upheld by the Washington State Court of Appeals. The three-member appellate court panel ruled in April 2020 that Yakima County has legal authority to ban recreational marijuana businesses from unincorporated areas. The suit was initiated by marijuana retailer Sticky Budz over three years ago.
Marijuana sales were made legal in Washington State by a voter approved initiative on December 6, 2012. The law allows for the sale and purchase of the drug only at state licensed retail centers. Since the law was enacted, there have been roughly 20 cannabis companies operating in Yakima County. Since the county announced its plans to enforce the ban, that number has dwindled to just three.
The court reasoned that the purpose of the law that legalized marijuana was to regulate and tax the sale of the drug. As such, the court held that there is nothing in the law that prohibits a county from banning its sale within the limits of that county. Judge Laurel Siddoway determined that the “local prohibition of the sale of marijuana does not thwart the state law’s purpose because the state law’s purpose is to regulate, not to promote or encourage the sale, production, or use of marijuana.”
Those familiar with the industry believe that this decision will not have a chilling effect on either the rise of popularity of the drug, or a decrease in investment from those looking to get into the marijuana retail sector. Of particular note, Washington saw a sales record for marijuana in the month of April. Also, areas along the border have consistently led the state in marijuana sales, as this is where residents of neighboring states flock to in order to purchase cannabis products that would seemingly be illegal in their home state.One can extrapolate that the same will be true for those retail stores that border Yakima County. In short, Yakima consumer will still consume, they will just be giving those tax proceeds from the cannabis sales to the bordering cities and counties.
Operators of marijuana grow and retail business believe that the ban is unfair and contradicts the information that they were given by the state when they received their licenses to operate facilities. The county, in response, alleges that the prohibition on marijuana was the product of a county-wide vote which rejected the legalization of marijuana by a majority margin. County officials claim that they are simply enforcing the will of the people who live within Yakima County. Further, county voters upheld the ban in an advisory vote in 2017 by more than 60%.
Many cannabis related businesses have simply made the decision to close up shop and relocate to nearby counties where there is no ban. Unfortunately, this may take a considerable amount of time and resources due to the zoning approval process and the difficulty in locating a suitable place for their businesses. Still, operators are optimistic that they will land on their feet and are buoyed by the seemingly never ending demand for their product. While this decision sets an important precedent, it appears that only a small minority of counties are opting to make the sale and production of the drug illegal within their borders. As the popularity of the drug increases, it remains to be seen which areas will close off their county to the sale and manufacture of cannabis products.