Medical marijuana dispensaries still on hold, for now, in Poulsbo

POULSBO — Bill Austin, owner of the Hare & Hounds pub as well as other downtown properties, said he has licenses to sell alcohol and tobacco — legal substances that have long been the source of addiction, heartbreak and illness.

And yet, people like Troy Barber, sitting in the audience at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, are fighting to win people the right to access something that can help them — medical marijuana.

The City Council decided Wednesday to keep in place its six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, which it adopted March 16.

But when it comes time to license a medical marijuana dispensary in Poulsbo, there could be some supporters on the council.

The council adopted the moratorium because it doesn’t know what kind of requirements the state could put on cities, such as taxation, if one of two state bills become law.

While medical marijuana is legal in Washington and 15 other states, there are no dispensaries in Kitsap County; Port Orchard has a moratorium, and  Bremerton has rejected two business license applications. Poulsbo has yet to determine zoning for dispensaries. And there are conflicts between state and federal laws.

House Bill 1550, filed Jan. 21 by state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, would regulate marijuana much like alcohol. Marijuana would be sold through state liquor stores to adults age 21 and older, sales would be taxed and the state Liquor Control Board would issue licenses to commercial growers.

Proponents say the state would receive about $200 million in revenue from licenses and taxes. But the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational marijuana, and some legislators say the federal government may prevent the state from keeping the revenue.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is one of 14 co-sponsors of HB 1550. The bill has not advanced since a Feb. 8 public hearing in the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. A companion bill, SB 5598, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 31.

Mary Clare Kersten, a coordinator of Sensible Washington, which supports the legalization of cannabis, called dispensaries “an act of mercy” to those who need medical marijuana but have no access to it. She said dispensaries are run like pharmacies and require documentation not unlike a prescription. And they can dispense medical marijuana in a form that will best benefit the patient’s condition.

“It’s not a stoner shop. It’s a medical marijuana shop,” she said.

Medical marijuana uses certain chemicals in the cannabis plant that have been shown to have medicinal value and can be taken by capsule, extract, spray or smoking. Medical marijuana has been used to relieve nausea and pain, lower eye pressure in glaucoma patients, and stimulate hunger in patients with disease-related weight loss.

Councilman David Musgrove said he voted for the moratorium so the city would have time to figure out “how to do it right.” He cited unknowns related to location and zoning.

Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist said she supports the use of medical marijuana. She said she knows people who have been helped by it and believes people should have access to it.

Mayor Becky Erickson said the moratorium’s intent was to “buy the city some time” and that a city ordinance could be drafted after HB 1550 and SB 5598 are decided.

But Councilman Jim Henry warns that HB 1550 and SB 5598 could result in another unfunded state mandate — the state would get revenue generated from local dispensaries, with the responsibility for regulating and governing put on the city.


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