Pot debate rages on
June 7, 2012
By Michele Mihalovich
King County, North Bend and Snoqualmie governments have all chosen different paths when it comes to handling medical-marijuana operations after the law changed last July.
The county did not enact new legislation; Snoqualmie will not under any circumstances allow a business license and North Bend issued a moratorium.
Initiative 692, passed in 1998, allows people suffering from certain medical conditions to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana.
Marijuana, regardless of whether it’s being used for medical purposes or not, remains illegal under federal law.
State lawmakers attempted to legalize and regulate marijuana dispensaries and farms by amending the law, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed 36 of the 58 sections that would have allowed them. Some of the vetoes made dispensaries illegal, but she did authorize 45-plant “collective gardens” for up to 10 patients at a time, which established for the first time a right for patients to band together in growing collectives.
Frank Abe, spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine, has said that the executive does not plan to propose any new regulations governing dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county.
That allowed The Kind Alternative Medical Collective, a nonprofit collective operating in Preston since March 2011, to continue operations.
John Starbard, director of the Department of Development and Environmental Services, said that if a new collective garden wished to start up in an unincorporated area of King County, it would have to apply for a land-use permit.
He said there are noise, lighting and odor concerns that would make a collective garden operation inappropriate for a residential zone, but if it were in a business zone, the use would be allowed.
Starbard said no one in the Snoqualmie Valley has applied for a land-use permit for a collective garden.
“There was a group in Maple Valley that inquired about it, but I don’t think it’s gone any farther than that,” he said.
Starbard admits that the law is confusing.
“On the one hand, state law is allowing the use, while federal law doesn’t,” he said. “People need to be aware that we would allow the use of a medical-marijuana collective garden in the proper zone, but the federal law does not allow the use at all and could choose to enforce it.”
Pat Anderson, Snoqualmie city attorney, said, “We don’t have a political view that we have to get something in place (to address the new law). The sale of marijuana is a federal crime and we won’t issue a license. Period.”
He said the U.S. attorney in Seattle sent a letter out saying that if the state got involved in the business of selling marijuana, he would prosecute.
Anderson said the city has received only a couple of inquiries from people regarding a business license for a medical-marijuana operation, and they were told the city would not issue a license.
Last June, the city of North Bend established a 12-month emergency moratorium, which temporarily restricts the use of medical-marijuana dispensaries or production facilities in the city. It amended the ordinance in August to include collective gardens.
On May 15, the council again established a moratorium, this time for a six-month period.
Mike Kenyon, North Bend’s city attorney, said cities are allowed to establish a first-time moratorium for 12 months; after that, they have to be done in six-month increments.
Councilman Dee Williamson said at the May 15 council meeting that he supports renewing the moratorium while the debate continues between state, city and federal governments.
“But I don’t see any action being taken,” he said. “What are we going to do? Just keep establishing a moratorium?”
Gina Estep, director of community and economic development, told the council her department members would like some additional time for research to develop a work plan so they had a clear understanding the effect the new law has on the city, and to analyze impacts and potential liabilities on federal law.
“We will also look at possible options the city can take in the future to address this,” Estep said.
Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or email@example.com.