Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Opinion states Initiative 502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses

OLYMPIA — In response to a request from Sharon Foster, chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the Attorney General’s Office today released a formal Attorney General’s Opinion regarding local ordinances affecting new marijuana businesses in Washington.

Approved by voters in 2012, Initiative 502 legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in Washington.

The formal opinion concludes I-502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions.

The opinion states:

“Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers in Washington State, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to preempt local authority to regulate such businesses. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions.” 

While I-502’s drafters could have structured I-502 to require local governments to accept marijuana businesses, they did not do so. If the Legislature wants to change that, it can amend the law.    

Background on AGO opinions    

Attorney General Opinions are issued only at the request of members of the state legislature, statewide elected officials, appointed heads of state agencies, boards and commissions and county prosecuting attorneys.

Formal Attorney General’s Opinions are statements of the Attorney General’s official views on legal questions relating to the duties of a public officer. They are not binding on the courts, but are usually given careful consideration and respect.

When an opinion is requested the office first decides whether the request is appropriate for an opinion. If so, there is a lengthy research, drafting, and review process. 

 For formal opinions, the office publishes a notice in the state register and considers comments submitted by the public.    

The opinions are carefully drafted by an assigned attorney, reviewed by Assistant Attorneys General, the Opinions Chief, the Solicitor General and the Attorney General.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


  • Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725
  • Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Communications Director, (206) 641-1335