The Longview City Council voted Tuesday to ban collective medical marijuana gardens for six months while the city hashes out exactly where they'll be allowed in town.
Gardens of up to 45 plants — a maximum of 15 per medical marijuana patient — become legal Friday in Washington. Officials in Longview and other cities, however, have been saying they lack guidance on how to implement the law, once part of a larger bill that was pared down by vetoes from Gov.Chris Gregoire.
"We really hoped a bill would go through that would set clear direction for cities, but it didn't," City Attorney Marilyn Nitteberg-Haan said at Tuesday's special meeting.
If the City Council did not impose a moratorium, Mayor Kurt Anagnostou said he was concerned collective gardens that might spring up in the next few weeks — possibly in undesirable places such as near schools — could be "grandfathered" in.
Nitteberg-Haan explained that the city delayed taking action until now because she was waiting for the city's insurance carrier, the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, to issue a legal opinion on a moratorium. In addition, she was talking to other cities about how they're handling the matter, and then she unexpectedly had to miss work for a few days, Nitteberg-Haan said.
The council set a hearing for public comments about the moratorium for Sept. 15 at 6 p.m., which falls within the requirement of holding a hearing within 60 days of taking such action.
The Longview Planning Commission will be tasked with recommending zoning for marijuana gardens to the council. As usual in zoning decisions, the planning commission will hold a public hearing about the gardens.
Councilman Don Jensen emphasized that the city was not taking a stance on whether medical marijuana was good or bad. The Legislature decided the gardens are legal, and the city must figure out where in town they may go, Jensen said.
Advocates for medical marijuana told the council the issue was not as big a deal as it might initially seem. Many card-carrying patients already are growing their own marijuana, and the new law protects them so police would know their gardens were OK, one man said.
"I think it was to protect the patients, not to create some citywide scare thing," said Castle Rock resident Kirk Kightlinger, who had been poised to open a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Kelso before Gregoire vetoed the parts of Senate Bill 5073 that would have legalized dispensaries.
Kightlinger agreed with the mayor's reluctance to allow marijuana gardens beside schools, saying marijuana should be regulated in the same way as alcohol. He maintained that a collective marijuana garden in a residential area shouldn't be a problem.
"You won't even know they exist," he said. "People are already growing for other patients. This is existing. It's been happening."