Marijuana County Bans in Washington Push Pot Entrepreneurs to Florida

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — GFarmaLabs extended its producer/processor application in Washington's Yakima County for sixty days but CEO Ata Gonzalez is also looking elsewhere.

"The ban in Yakima county is still in place and impacting our business plans," Gonzalez told MainStreet.

Gonzalez was forced to postpone his plans to build a grow facility when recreational use was legalized statewide on July 1 because Yakima is one of the counties along with Clark, Fife and others that have banned marijuana businesses.

"We asked if a local government can ban recreational marijuana licenses," said Brian Smith, spokesperson for the state of Washington's Liquor Control Board. "The state attorney general's formal opinion says they can ban, which doesn't carry the formal weight of the law but it carries the formal weight of the state attorney general."

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's opinion posted on the web states:

"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 pre-empt local authority to regulate such businesses."

Like in Washington, there are also counties in Colorado that ban all marijuana sales. They include Mesa, Garfield, and Douglas.

"Marijuana is illegal federally, so these counties say they are following federal law by imposing a ban," Smith told MainStreet.

Gonzalez is joining other cannabis CEOs in exploring land as far away as Florida where only THC content less than 0.8% is allowed and the only applicants allowed to grow are established nurseries that have been in business for thirty consecutive years.

"It is our home state and we see it as one of the biggest markets in the nation," Gonzalez told MainStreet.

In November, a popular proposal that will legalize medical marijuana in the sunshine state called Amendment 2 will appear as a ballot initiative but must garner 60% of the vote.

"I can see us begin buying buildings and land for greenhouses on speculation before licenses are even issued," said Adam Laufer, co-CEO of MJ Holdings in Miami. "The only real obstacle is zoning and that is only an issue if we seek to buy properties ahead of zoning determinations under state, county or municipal laws and ordinances."

Opposing forces are already rallying. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush reportedly said that allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes runs counter to the state's efforts to boost tourism and a business-friendly environment.

"Though technically medical marijuana dispensaries provide a healthcare service, they have historically been required to adopt the same zoning restrictions as businesses that sell alcohol, pornography and firearms," said Jeremy Németh, chair of the Department of Planning and Design at the University of Colorado Denver's College of Architecture and Planning. "Generally stores that sell these types of vices are prohibited from locating in residential or mixed-use neighborhoods and are pushed into much less affluent neighborhoods."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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