Cannabis legalization not a sure bet – how cities perpetuate prohibition

Photo of cable-stayed bridge over Columbia river in Tri-Cities Washington State

Legalizing cannabis possession and consumption doesn’t always ensure the allowance of cannabis retail, wholesale, delivery, or manufacturing in every city. Early this week, the Pasco, Washington, city council voted to rescind a 10-year ban on cannabis retail in the municipality, as reported by NewsTalk KFLD. In the same session, council members voted against a citizen vote on the subject.

Pasco banned cannabis retail after state voters approved Initiative 502 (i502), which implemented a system to license, regulate, and tax the Washington state cannabis industry. I-502 passed in 2012 with 55.7 percent approval in the state. Pasco is the largest city in Franklin County, where in 2012, 61 percent of registered voters were against the passing of the cannabis legalization initiative. Retail sales should begin in the county soon, but more than 25 other Washington cities still have outright cannabis retail bans.

Cannabis business municipality bans aren’t uncommon

The Southern Orange County suburb of Mission Viejo prohibits the permitting of any cannabis business within city limits according to the municipal code. The code further prohibits any delivery of cannabis to Mission Viejo residents despite the location of delivery hubs and whether the transaction is medical or recreational. These ordinances echo in the municipal codes of every Orange County city.

Advocates challenged bans in Mission Viejo in June 2022, but the city council rejected the consideration as reported by Voice of OC. In the neighboring city of Irvine, a 2018 plea agreement shows that some resorted to bribery to sway council members’ votes on cannabis operations.

The influence of city government on cannabis business isn’t only prevalent in the suburbs. Bureaucracy stalled the metropolitan city of Detroit from approving adult-use retail licensure until more than four years after Michigan voters approved legalization.

Some state governments have noted how city involvement interacts with the implementation of cannabis legalization. A cannabis legalization bill entered the Minnesota house on January 5, 2023 by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) In addition to notes on social equity licenses and vertical integration, the bill contains a stipulation prohibiting any Minnesota municipality from banning cannabis business. A recent revision went further to protect hemp businesses from bans as well.

Across the nation states are legalizing cannabis possession but municipalities are blocking the industry, creating prohibition strongholds like Orange County. It’s possible that Minnesota taking proactive action against these measures could set precedent for other states on the precipice of moving legalization bills through to their governor’s desk.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.