Cities struggling to navigate murky medical marijuana laws

2011-07-19T22:20:00Z 2012-04-17T17:34:24Z Cities struggling to navigate murky medical marijuana lawsBy Barbara LaBoe / The Daily News Longview Daily News
July 19, 2011 10:20 pm  • 

While some Cowlitz County cities are temporarily banning or restricting group medical marijuana gardens, other local officials say the new state law is so confusing they're waiting to see what their options are — even though the gardens become legal Friday.

Much about the law remains murky  including whether local governments are courting trouble by not regulating the gardens before Friday. But several local city leaders said that confusion is exactly why they haven't taken any action.

"We're not anxious to go to court ... and we kind of want to see how it plays out in these other cities first," said Kelso Mayor David Futcher. "It's in too much of a state of flux for anyone to make a realistic decision."

"We'll probably discuss it at the next council meeting (Wednesday), but I'd prefer to sit back and see what happens elsewhere," said Kalama Mayor Pete Poulsen. "I'd like to see the legal side play out a bit more before we get hunkered down into something we'd then have to modify."

Woodland Mayor Chuck Blum said his council hasn't discussed the matter and he believed any group gardens would need a business permit. When told there wasn't a statewide license requirement, Blum said he'd need more time to study the matter before deciding the city's next move.

Cowlitz County commissioners are checking with the county attorney, said Commission George Raiter.

"I can see that we'd want the ability to keep it away from where nobody wants one, like next to a school," Raiter said. "But we'll wait and see until we get a report back from legal."

Patients with a medical marijuana card already can grow up to 15 plants for their own use in Washington. The new state law allows up to 10 patients to form one large group garden totalling no more than 45 plants. The marijuana grown there must be for the patients' own use.

Not only is the law still new, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed parts of a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries while allowing the group gardens to become law. That's left city and state officials  and their legal advisors  unable to agree on what the law does and doesn't allow.

The Longview City Council voted in a six-month moratorium on the gardens Tuesday, saying city staff needed more time to develop the proper regulations. The Castle Rock City Council, on the other hand, was advised by its attorney that a moratorium was possibly illegal. Instead, Castle Rock restricted the gardens to two locations away from the city's downtown and residential core and instituted a number of restrictions, such as requiring building permits and limiting the number of gardens.

Some restrictions are allowed under the state law  but only if the local government votes them in, said Bob Meinig, legal consultant for the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, a non-profit organization which advises cities on legal matters. The group has revised its advice to cities twice due to the state law confusion.

Without any city council or county commission action, there are very few rules governing the group gardens and no requirements to notify local authorities about their existence. Taking no regulatory action also could mean that gardens are planted next to schools or churches or other places that cities might want to bar them, according to the Washington Cities Insurance Authority legal opinion the city of Longview is relying upon.

Another potential risk with waiting is that gardens that are legally established may be considered "grandfathered in" even if a city later takes action to limit the number or location. "That's certainly a reasonable concern," Meinig said.

Futcher, Kelso's mayor, said he also worries about federal law, which still prohibits any type of marijuana gardens. There hasn't been a widespread crackdown of the single patient medical marijuana gardens allowed under state law, but federal officials also can't promise they won't enforce the law in Washington.

"I'm no lawyer, but with federal and state law conflicting, I think I know which one will win," Futcher said. "It's crazy that we're stuck in this limbo."

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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