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I-502 creates new set of issues
POULSBO — As Poulsbo continues to grapple with last year’s amendment to the Medical Use of Cannabis Act, which allows collective cannabis gardens but not dispensaries, Initiative 502 on the Nov. 6 ballot calls for legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Collective gardens, which allows 45 plants or 72 ounces of “usable cannabis” per garden, are the only legal access points to medical marijuana in the state. Patients can grow up to 15 plants individually.
Initiative 502 would legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and older; decriminalize production, distribution and possession; and tax sales from state-licensed stores.
If passed, the initiative would extrapolate the problem many jurisdictions are facing — how to license and regulate an activity legal under state law, but illegal under federal law.
“[On one hand] the state has defined medical use as [patients] having an allowance of so many plants and weight,” said Deputy Scott Wilson, Kitsap County Sheriff spokesman. “But the feds say no marijuana.”
While medical marijuana is legal in Washington and 15 other states, there are no dispensaries or gardens on the books in Kitsap County.
The Poulsbo City Council adopted two moratoriums this year to buy the city time while it updates its zoning code; the last moratorium expired in August.
Since the amendment to the 1998 law passed last year, no one has applied for a collective garden business license or permit in Poulsbo. Planning Director Barry Berezowszky said he would not consider a collective garden a permitted use, because it is not addressed in the current code.
The council is now reviewing staff changes to the code; collective gardens would be allowed in light industrial zones, and not permitted within 500 feet of another collective garden, residential zoning district, public park, community center, elementary or secondary school (public or private), commercial child care business or youth-oriented facility.
Larry Keeton, Kitsap County’s director of community development, said the county has not restricted the state law or imposed a moratorium, but the permitting office would not allow a business permit or license for an illegal substance.
“We’ve heard there are some collective gardens, but we’re not looking for them,” Keeton said. “That’s not the same as we’re welcoming them, but if they got permitted they got permitted under a different use.” Commissioner Rob Gelder said the law is not on the board’s radar screen.
Port Orchard passed an ordinance in July stating collective gardens are not eligible for license because of federal law. Bremerton renewed a moratorium which expires in February.
“We’re not going to sit there and issue permits for something that’s against federal law,” Bremerton City Attorney Roger Lubovich said.
Troy Barber, media coordinator for Sensible Washington, said he doesn’t know of any collective gardens in the county, but there are three “access points” in Port Orchard, three around Belfair, and one in Silverdale. Sensible Washington is an organization working to legalize cannabis.
Barber is a proponent of medical and recreational use; he saw the positive effects of cannabis as an herbal medicine for his cancer-stricken mother, who died earlier this year.
Sensible Washington, however, is not a supporter of I-502. Barber said “it goes not far enough and it goes too far.”
Sensible Washington says I-502 “sets up a legal distribution system that will fall to federal preemption.” Barber said the initiative’s weakness is the taxing regulation. The measure directs the state to spend designated amounts on programs, such as the state health plan, substance abuse prevention, marijuana education, and the state general fund.
Barber said the federal government is watching this initiative closely and may “crush” the bill by not allowing the state to keep revenues from an illegal substance.
State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Ballard, is a sponsor of I-502. She said the Office of Financial Management estimates the law would bring in as much as $500 million a year in revenue.
“I think we have a really good chance of working with the federal government to allow the state to go forward and act on the will of the people,” she said.
The current state law does not protect patients from arrest, but provides an “affirmative defense” — a potential get-out-of-jail-free card. If the patient is found with marijuana but has a medical card, a legal amount of medical cannabis and has committed no other violation, he or she is unlikely to be arrested.
Poulsbo Police Chief Dennis Swiney said of I-502, “Our position and responsibility is to enforce current laws and regulations, either from Washington State [Legislature] or Poulsbo municipal codes.”
Marijuana activity is within the “average range” of other comparable jurisdictions, Swiney said, based on meetings and discussions with other law enforcement agencies and Kitsap County Narcotics Task Force.
However, based on calls for service and observations of officers in the field, Swiney said he can “presume” that Poulsbo’s officers have come across folks who possess marijuana for medical purposes.
“The officers know what to look for, and have either taken action or honored a legitimate medical marijuana license,” he said.
Patients receive authorization from their doctor based on certain medical conditions; 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, such as from chemotherapy.
However, there is no state Department of Health oversight, and Washington is the only medical marijuana state without a mandatory or voluntary registry.
I-502, however, would broaden the terms for marijuana users.
It would no longer be a crime in Washington for an adult (21 or older) to possess 1 ounce of useable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form (such as cookies), and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused products in liquid form (teas, lotions), according to New Approach Washington.
Election day is Nov. 6. Ballots are being delivered to homes, and should be postmarked by Nov. 6 or dropped off at one of six drop boxes in the county by 8 p.m. on election night. In North Kitsap, the drop box location is at Poulsbo Fire Station.
For more information on the elections and initiatives on the ballot, read the Kitsap County Voter’s Guide, available at wa.liveballot.com/kitsap.