Recreational pot store sues Pierce County

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - The first recreational marijuana store in unincorporated Pierce County filed a lawsuit Thursday against the county, over an ordinance the owners say conflicts with state marijuana laws.

Green Collar obtained a license to sell recreational marijuana in late July from the Washington State Liquor Control Board. But Pierce County officials object to the business, citing the ordinance passed by their council late last year.

Ordinance 2013-111s states, among other things, that “no application for a marijuana-licensed business shall be approved by Pierce County until such time as marijuana is removed from the schedule of controlled substances” at the federal level.

It also states a marijuana retailer can only sell “in a detached building containing no additional businesses and activities.”

Pierce County officials said they could not comment on pending litigation.

KIRO 7 found archived video of the council’s discussion of the ordinance last November.

During that meeting, Pierce County Council Chair Dan Roach said, “Never once in my 13 years have I gone against the will of the people and their initiatives. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this is one right now.”

A spokesperson for the state liquor control board said licensees still have to abide by local laws in order to operate.

There are similar legal challenges in places like Fife and Wenatchee, where city officials either argue federal law should preempt state law, or that they would like to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana sales.

Jay Berneburg, the attorney representing Green Collar, said the owners are following the state law, which voters approved.

“Pierce County Council doesn’t care about the voters; we don’t really care about the Pierce County Council,” he said.

Birchard told KIRO 7 they would be willing to move to a single, detached building according the county ordinance. Even so, marijuana is still listed as a controlled substance under federal law.

Knowing they could be cited and shut down, Birchard said he’s willing to open the store as soon as they receive product. He estimates that may happen in the next month or two.

“We knew this would be an issue. But we want to be the ones to go forth with it to fight the good fight for the people,” Birchard said.