City Council extends medical marijuana moratorium
EVERETT - The City Council last week unanimously approved a six-month moratorium extension on medical marijuana.
The city’s legal department wanted the moratorium extended for two reasons.
One, it needs more time to research how to zone and where to place collective gardens.
Two, the federal government’s determination that medical marijuana is illegal creates a risk to city employees, assistant city attorney Ramsey Ramerman said.
Everett’s legal department believes city staff “would be seen as accomplices to federal drug crimes” if the city allows medical marijuana gardens, Ramerman said.
A key document many cities point to is a January letter from the Drug Enforcement Administration sent to Clark County’s board of commissioners in which the DEA explicitly states anyone who allows medical marijuana to be zoned or permitted could be prosecuted.
The city’s legal team has a duty to advise the city against allowing collective gardens based on that risk, Ramerman told the Tribune. Ramerman acknowledges, though, that nobody’s been prosecuted for permitting medical marijuana sites.
“We’re put in a hard situation with the conflict between state and federal law,” Ramerman said.
The federal drug law argument is a red herring, medical marijuana supporters say. They say the issue is about upholding state law, which allows medical marijuana, and they say the moratoriums deny patients local access to their medicine.
Kent’s City Council took a hardline approach on medical marijuana by voting in an all-out ban on collective gardens. The activist group Cannabis Action Coalition sued Kent for that decision, and coalition representatives have threatened Everett with a lawsuit here if the moratorium is extended.
The coalition is still deciding its next target but “Everett is high on our list,” coalition president Steve Sarich told the Tribune last week after the vote.
Sarich calls the federal argument “bogus,” saying Everett just “doesn’t like marijuana.”
The Kent lawsuit could be a bellwether for many cities.
Kent may try to get a quick summary judgment that decides whether federal law prohibits collective gardens or state law allows them, Ramerman said.
“It’s nice to have some guidance,” Ramerman said.
The state’s medical marijuana law, gutted by Gov. Chris Gregoire last spring, allows collective gardens. Up to 10 patients can collectively grow up to 45 plants. Many people get their marijuana from storefront shops. Most cities, though, created moratoriums against allowing these gardens as they try to figure out how to permit them. A year later, most of the moratoriums are being extended, including in Snohomish and Monroe.
Only the cities of Mukilteo, Shoreline, Seattle and Issaquah allow storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, which operate under the term collective gardens. Mukilteo has two such storefronts.
The dispensaries in Mukilteo are completely different from the spirit of collective gardens, Ramerman said.
“A collective garden is 10 people growing plants together, and that’s not what people want to open; they want dispensaries,” Ramerman said.
Only one person spoke out about the moratorium at a public hearing last week.
Everett resident Ian Voje said he sees a legal gray area on medical marijuana, but hopes the moratorium ends soon.
“A moratorium on collective gardens is doing nothing to stop the black market, which is the real threat to our city,” Voje said.
Voje is involved in the legalization effort.
The City Council had no comments before passing the moratorium extension.