By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published June 27, 2012
Other cities have figured it out, why can’t Everett
Medical marijuana supporters question moratorium extension
EVERETT - Is Everett actually working on rules concerning medical marijuana or is it just stalling?
Supporters and patients of medical marijuana believe the city is stalling.
Mukilteo, Seattle and Shoreline have adopted rules designating where patients can access medical marijuana. Everett, Snohomish and Monroe say they need more time.
Everett’s legal department is pushing to extend Everett’s moratorium on medical marijuana for another six months, and the city is taking heat for the request.
The legal department wants the moratorium extended so Everett can see how a lawsuit filed against the city of Kent’s outright ban on medical marijuana plays out. The city also is waiting for clarification in the state’s recently modified medical marijuana law.
At a planning commission meeting and at a City Council meeting last week, medical marijuana supporters and patients pleaded with officials to let the moratorium expire, so providers could open up in town again. The year-long moratorium expires July 20.
The planning commission took the issue up last week, and the City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on extending the moratorium on Wednesday, July 3. The council had its first reading of the ordinance at last week’s meeting.
The planning commission last week was asked by the city to recommend approving the extension. It balked and refused because it wasn’t given enough time to review the issue.
Jeremy Kelsey, a medical marijuana provider, said he’s talking with a lawyer because he’s upset with Everett’s position. Kelsey closed his medical marijuana storefront because of Everett’s moratorium. He moved his Medical Marijuana Patients Network shop to Mukilteo.
Steve Sarich, executive director of Cannabis Action Coalition, threatened Everett with litigation as well. The coalition is suing Kent for that city’s decision to ban outright medical marijuana.
Last year, many cities adopted moratoriums — temporary bans — so they could figure out appropriate rules. Medical marijuana supporters say Everett is stalling on adopting rules, amounting to an effective ban.
Kelsey wonders if the city has seriously worked on the issue since adopting the moratorium last July. Cities are required to create a work plan that eventually establishes regulations on zoning and other public health and safety issues concerning medical marijuana.
Kelsey is at a loss to find substantive evidence of Everett’s work.
“They can’t ignore this,” Kelsey said, describing Everett’s inaction as patient negligence.
Kelsey is passionate about medical marijuana because he and his wife both use medical marijuana for their ailments.
Kelsey, through a public records request, asked the city for its legal work on medical marijuana rules. He got more than 650 pages of documents, but the bulk of the paperwork is research.
The city, citing attorney-client privilege, refused to release two documents, one being a 51-page document.
City attorney Jim Iles said the 51-page document is a compilation of the city’s legal research on medical marijuana and couldn’t say much more.
The city also has called on independent experts for legal help with the issue, Iles said.
The second factor driving the legal department’s recommendation to extend the moratorium comes from the uncertainty in state law. Everett is waiting for the state to clear up the confusion surrounding medical marijuana laws. The mess stems from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s partial veto of portions of a 2011 law that legalized collective gardens and storefront dispensaries.
“The issue is not whether we are for or against medical cannabis, it is charting (a course) in the law,” assistant city attorney David Hall said at the City Council presentation.
Last week the Tribune parsed through the paperwork the city gave Kelsey. At least three-fourths of the paperwork was printouts of other cities’ policies and advice from groups such as the Association of Washington Cities, a resource group for municipalities. Up to one-third of the paperwork is medical marijuana laws in Colorado, which baffles Kelsey.
“Where’s the work plan?” Kelsey said.
Everett’s preliminary work plan from 2011 is a three-page document that calls for reviewing policies in other cities.
Tacoma, for example, developed a detailed work plan and formed a task force to help the city shape its rules for medical marijuana. Tacoma’s work plan from earlier this year would end its moratorium in August and set zoning rules for medical marijuana.
Sarich, who sued Kent for banning providers outright, warned the Everett City Council last week this city could be sued as well if it doesn’t work toward establishing zoning rules. In his coalition’s opinion, Everett’s moratorium is a perfunctory ban.
Further muddying the water is the federal government’s stance on medical marijuana. It says it is illegal. Everett fears city employees could get in trouble with the federal government if the city allows medical marijuana permits.
Medical marijuana supporters say that’s a red herring. The city responds to state medical marijuana laws, not the federal government, they say.
For some medical marijuana patients, the wait is excruciating.
Matt Barron, who survived an undisclosed form of cancer and credits marijuana for helping him heal, called for elected officials to be compassionate.
“Let’s get down to humanity,” Barron said, adding, “I fear it is kicking the can down the road and there are people following that can and waiting and hoping for proactive action.”
The City Council is expected to vote on the moratorium extension Wednesday, July 3 after a public hearing. The City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. at 3002 Wetmore Ave.