The state Attorney General's Office has gotten involved in lawsuits filed against two Washington cities that banned marijuana businesses, a move that could affect the law recently passed by Pasco.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday that his office is intervening in cases filed against Fife and Wenatchee by applicants who tried to open marijuana businesses there.
Ferguson said he's not siding with the cities or the business owners.
Rather, he is defending Initiative 502 -- the law voters passed in November 2012 allowing recreational marijuana possession and sales.
Ferguson issued an opinion in January that said the new state law allows cities and counties to ban marijuana businesses.
But state officials said Thursday that the bans cannot be based on the idea that federal law, which prohibits marijuana sales, preempts the state law.
"We may agree with the cities on some arguments and disagree on other arguments," Solicitor General Noah Purcell said on a conference call Thursday with Ferguson and reporters.
The state Solicitor General's Office prepares and issues the attorney general's opinions.
Last week, the Pasco City Council passed a marijuana sales ban that said the city is "prohibiting uses which are illegal under local, state or federal law."
Pasco should be able to keep its ban in place even if the idea that federal law does not preempt state law holds up in court, said Rick White, Pasco's community and economic development director.
"Perhaps the premise that it was based on may need to be beefed up, but, at this point, I don't think it's troublesome," he said.
The law passed by Pasco was not based entirely on the difference between state and federal law, but also on the idea that the city can exercise its police power, White said.
Pasco can learn first hand about the lawsuits from its incoming city manager, Dave Zabell, who starts Aug. 25.
Zabell is finishing up his time as city manager in Fife, which is involved in two lawsuits where people are trying to invalidate local ordinances so they can sell marijuana.
A hearing in one of those cases is expected Aug. 29. Ferguson said he expects at least one case against a city to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Ferguson plans to intervene in future lawsuits where cities argue that federal law preempts the state, he said.
"It is possible the decisions in these cases will have an impact across the state," he said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom