In the Matter of the Petition of: KITTITAS COUNTY for a Declaratory Order.
WASHINGTON STATE LIQUOR AND CANNABIS BOARD, Appellant. KITTITAS COUNTY, Respondent,
case asks whether Washington's Growth Management Act
(GMA), chapter 36.70A RCW, requires the Washington State
Liquor and Cannabis Board (the Board) to defer to local
zoning laws when making licensing decisions. Our answer is
no. Neither the GMA nor the State's marijuana licensing
laws require the Board to issue licenses in conformity with
local zoning laws. While the Board may consider zoning
restrictions in making licensing decisions, doing so is not
required under current law.
voters legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana
in 2012. Initiative 502, Laws of 2013, ch. 3. The new law
created a legal marketplace for marijuana and delegated
licensing, regulatory, and oversight powers to the Board. RCW
69.50.325, .331. Under the law, marijuana producers,
processors, and retailers must operate under Board-approved
licenses. RCW 69.50.325. Board licenses are site-specific,
meaning they are valid only if used at the location approved
by the Board in a license application. Id.
December 2015, Kittitas County (the County) notified the
Board of its objection to a license application for a
marijuana producer/processor operation. The objection was
based solely on the location of the operation. Marijuana
production and processing is permitted in the county only
"in certain land use zoning designations" and
"under strict conditions." Clerk's Papers (CP)
at 31; see also Report of Proceedings (RP) (Dec. 22,
2017) at 6-7.
Board granted the license over the County's objection. In
correspondence to the County, the Board indicated that it
could not base its denial of an application on local zoning
February 2017, the County petitioned the Board under RCW
34.05.240 for a declaratory order. The County argued the
site-specific nature of marijuana licenses means that
licensing decisions are subject to local zoning regulations.
2017, the Board rendered a decision on the County's
petition after issuing a notice of proceedings and receiving
input from numerous cities and counties. Although the
County's position garnered significant support from
various municipalities and county governments, the Board
determined that neither the marijuana licensing statute nor
the GMA required its adherence to "all local zoning laws
and land use ordinances prior to granting a license."
Id. at 235.
County successfully appealed the Board's decision to the
Kittitas County Superior Court. In reversing the Board's
decision, the superior court ordered the Board to "only
approve those licenses which are in compliance with local
zoning." Id. at 330; see also RP (Dec.
22, 2017) at 38.
Board brings this appeal seeking reversal of the superior
Board's appeal comes to us via the Administrative
Procedure Act, chapter 34.05 RCW. In this context, we review
the Board's decision, not that of the superior court.
Goldsmith v. Dep't of Social & Health
Servs., 169 Wn.App. 573, 583-84, 280 P.3d 1173 (2012).
Because the Board's decision here turns on statutory
interpretation, our review is de novo. State v.
Evans, 177 Wn.2d 186, 191, 298 P.3d 724 (2013). We begin
with the statute's plain language, and end our analysis
there if the text is unambiguous. Id. at 192. In
addition, if a statute has been interpreted by state agencies
with relevant administrative expertise, we will give that
agency's legal interpretation substantial weight.
Verizon Nw., Inc. v. Emp't Sec. Dep't, 164
Wn.2d 909, 915, 194 P.3d 255 (2008).
licenses and the GMA
to the County, the GMA requires the Board to deny marijuana
licenses to marijuana producers, processors, and retailers
whose site locations are in areas with local zoning