City Council enacts moratorium on medical marijuana gardens

June 28, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah leaders enacted a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana collective gardens June 20, as the city prepares to address a state law meant to clarify the hazy rules surrounding medical marijuana.

City Council members enacted the moratorium in a unanimous decision. State law authorizes a city to impose a moratorium as leaders consider possible land-use or zoning changes. The pause is meant to allow city leaders to consider options for collective gardens.

Under state law, up to 10 qualifying patients can join together and form a collective garden of up to 45 plants, so long as the marijuana is not visible from public spaces.

The initial measure before the council included language about a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries as well. Councilman Fred Butler eliminated the language before the vote.

“The reason for deleting ‘medical marijuana dispensaries’ is, they’re currently illegal and were not addressed in the” recent state legislation, he said before the council decision.

Members also set a public hearing on the moratorium for July 18.

“The moratorium gives the city a timeout to figure out how to deal with collective gardens, which is very appropriate,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said after the decision. “Now is the time for citizens to tell us how collective gardens should be regulated. I’m not sure they can be banned under current state law. So, we need to figure out a way to balance the mandate of state voters with local community values.”

Marijuana rules remain confusing

Get involved 

City Council regular meeting

  • Agenda: medical marijuana collective garden moratorium public hearing
  • 7:30 p.m. July 18
  • Council Chambers, City Hall South, 135 E. Sunset Way

The situation is confusing because marijuana, medical or otherwise, remains illegal under federal law.

Washington voters legalized medical marijuana in a 1998 ballot initiative, but the ambiguous language in the measure continues to cause headaches for patients and policymakers. Physicians can recommend, but not prescribe, medical marijuana for patients.

The state law does not allow for dispensaries, but relaxed enforcement in many cities enabled medical marijuana dispensaries to open.

State legislators sought to clarify rules surrounding medical marijuana — to legalize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations — in the 2011 regular legislative session.

The landmark legislation passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed parts after federal prosecutors threatened to charge state employees for carrying out the law.

The legislation contained language to authorize the state to license and regulate — but not decriminalize — dispensaries and grow operations.

Gregoire vetoed provisions in the legislation related to licensing producers, processors and dispensers. The governor also struck a provision to establish a state registry for medical marijuana patients, providers and collective gardens.

“We would like to have time to get community input on how the city should address this quasi-legal issue,” Councilman Tola Marts said. “I think that, for instance, it could be a zoning issue or it could be the community’s dead-set against it.”

Cities seek to address state law

The decision prompted maneuvering among municipal officials before the state law goes into effect July 22.

North Bend imposed a yearlong moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries June 7. Unlike Issaquah, no medical marijuana outlet is open in North Bend. Elsewhere in King County, Federal Way imposed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in April. Kent also called on medical marijuana dispensaries to close.

“I think that it’s clearly in flux right now. I think that other municipalities are sorting through this as well,” Marts said. “I think that our community should take a look, and we as leaders should take a look, at how other municipalities are dealing with this.”

The moratorium also prompted questions about the sole medical marijuana collective in Issaquah.

(The Kind Alternative Medical Collective, a nonprofit medical marijuana collective in Preston, opened in February, but King County jurisdiction applies because the community is in the unincorporated area.)

GreenLink Collective appealed in March after the city denied a business license to the downtown medical marijuana collective. The city denied the application, because planners decided the collective is more similar to a drugstore or a pharmacy, rather than a social services organization. The city hearing examiner denied the appeal June 20.

“The law is very clear that collectives are allowed under the statute,” said Aaron Pelley, a Seattle attorney representing the collective. “So, they’re basically saying, ‘We’re not going to allow something that the Legislature for the state of Washington has decided can be.’ It’s very alarming that the city of Issaquah thinks that it can usurp the legislation of the state of Washington.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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