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Poulsbo City Council approves moratorium on medical marijuana gardens

POULSBO — The Poulsbo City Council unanimously approved a moratorium on medical marijuana collective gardens Wednesday, in the midst of unclear laws and jurisdiction.

The moratorium closes a loophole allowing medicinal cannabis in city limits. The council previously approved a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in March; that moratorium expires in mid-September.

Mayor Becky Erickson said in an interview the moratorium approved this week continues to disallow dispensaries, which are illegal under state law.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out the pieces of the law as it comes out of the Legislature,” she said. “It’s not a clear direction what [the state] is intending local jurisdiction can do.”

Medical marijuana is legal under Washington state law, along with 15 other states nationwide, but all marijuana is illegal under federal law.

The planning department recommended the moratorium while the department concludes a broad zoning update. Associate Planner Alyse Nelson said under current zoning laws, the city doesn't have a way to regulate a collective marijuana garden that is allowed under state law.

“It’s not because we want to not have a discussion about [medical marijuana] ... we want to include [collective gardens] as part of the land use review,” Nelson said.

A public hearing on the moratorium, which has not been set yet, is also required within 60 days of the council’s approval.

“When we are trying to embrace new ideas that would impact our zoning code, we have to follow a certain process, which is actually to the benefit of proponents” of medical marijuana, Councilwoman Connie Lord said. “We need to have process in place that satisfies all parties if [collective gardens] were going to be permitted.”

Nelson said the zoning updates will be presented before the council by the end of 2011, after which the council will make a final decision on whether to allow collective gardens.

Collective gardens, unlike dispensaries, are currently allowed under state law. However, regulation by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health do not take effect until January 2013, according to Section 901 of Senate Bill 5073. The law also states that patients are allowed to grow up to 15 plants privately and noncommercially.

A collective garden is defined by the bill as no more than 45 plants or 72 ounces of “usable cannabis.”

The council discussed the potential negative impacts of the gardens, such as property values and safety concerns, that would be addressed in new zoning ordinances.

Troy Barber, committee member of Sensible Washington, a marijuana legalization movement, told the council the language of the moratorium only represented a negative viewpoint of recreational marijuana dealers. He asked the council not to approve the moratorium as an appeal to patients’ rights.

“Don’t push people into an illegal black market to get their medication,” Barber told the council at Wednesday’s meeting. “We are talking about a political debate here, and how can have political debate when only one side of issue being presented?”

Councilman Jeff McGinty said he didn’t feel the concerns of marijuana’s negative impacts were inappropriate, but a response to other communities’ issues with dispensaries and collective gardens. He said he wouldn’t want a garden being planted in an inappropriate location, like next to a school.

Councilman Ed Stern said he was uncomfortable with the whole discussion, that the city must try to navigate the ambiguous rules between state and federal law.

“Is this what the end of prohibition felt like back in [the 1930s]?” Stern asked the council. “It’s an awfully awkward process that’s being thrust on all the cities courtesy of the federal and state government, and we’re being caught in the cross hairs.”

Nelson said the community is welcome to submit comments to the planning department before the hearing is held.

 

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