What to do about marijuana: City Council adopts nuisance ordinance
EVERETT - The City Council approved an ordinance in a 6-1 vote last week that declares medical marijuana gardens a nuisance and restricts them to industrial areas of town.
The ordinance doesn’t specify where gardens can locate, but prohibits them from locating in most areas of the city except in industrial zoning areas 1,000 feet away from residences and 500 feet from other collective gardens.
The council narrowly adopted a clause that allows the ordinance to expire in 18 months. City Councilman Paul Roberts, who proposed the clause, said it would force the city to re-evaluate the nuisance ordinance once issues such as the federal government’s reaction to the state’s regulation of legalized marijuana are clearer.
The city’s legal team created the nuisance ordinance to strike a balance between state law that allows collective gardens and federal law that prohibits marijuana growing and sale sites even in the case of medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana advocates say Everett’s approach, which is used in Tacoma, is flawed.
The most likely areas of town the gardens could locate are near the Port of Everett and near Boeing’s property in southwest Everett.
Opponents argue this approach prevents people from widespread access to medicine seen in cities such as Seattle, where storefront dispensaries are allowed. Most patients are nearing the end of their life and can’t travel, creating a denial of access, some opponents in the collective gardens industry said.
David Hall, assistant city attorney, said nowhere in the ordinance does it prohibit patients from growing their own marijuana indoors, and nowhere does it prevent them from receiving deliveries from collective gardens, Hall said, “So we don’t feel we’re unreasonably restricting access.”
The city has identified more than 40 locations collective gardens can exist within the city’s industrial zones, Hall said.
Hall admits calling cannabis a “nuisance” is awkward, but the legal staff didn’t have a better term for it.
Roberts was uncomfortable calling it a nuisance, but he said waiting to adopt regulations may be the best option.
“The reality of how to site these, we will know by June, July, August,” Roberts said, when the state creates a framework for recreational marijuana distributors in response to Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana for people 21 and older.
An attorney representing Jeremy Kelsey, who runs the Medical Marijuana Patients Network in Mukilteo, proposed an alternative ordinance the council did not consider. The proposed ordinance asks Everett not to redefine collective gardens, to define marijuana facilities where any marijuana is grown or processed and to set restrictions making these facilities a nuisance if they create odors, display marijuana in public and other tenets. Kelsey’s multimember collective garden, which the city considers a storefront dispensary, was basically kicked out of Everett when the city adopted a moratorium on collective gardens.
“It gives the city the tools it needs to restrict marijuana without trampling state law,” Kelsey’s attorney Ryan Espegard said.
“Everyone is saying this is medicine,” medical marijuana patient Michael McNeil said. “Today what we’re talking about is for sick people to have access to medicine. I hope the city does not plan to bypass the will of the people who voted.”
Washington voters approved an initiative in 1998 allowing patients to legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The ordinance also attempts to close a loophole some collective garden groups use to generate a larger membership base by limiting members from rejoining a garden every 90 days. The state law on collective gardens restricts the number of patients to 10 members per garden and patients can possess or grow up to 24 ounces of marijuana.
Many marijuana collective gardens use a rotating membership base to serve many more patients.
On Tuesday, Dec. 18, about 20 medical marijuana supporters marched to City Hall to protest against the city’s proposed ordinance. They chanted “fight crime not cannabis” and held signs such as “back alley access is not safe access.”
The group of supporters included two people from Everett.
Ken, who lives in unincorporated Snohomish County and declined to give his last name, gets his medical marijuana in the county. There are three access points along Highway 9 alone, Ken said.
“I think it’s unfair about access here in Everett,” he said, calling the law another excuse to ticket people and collect from patients.
Johnathan Rommel, a 31-year-old patient from Seattle, said Seattle’s system is much safer. Seattle’s law allows licensed storefront marijuana dispensaries.
“It’s safe access, I don’t have to worry about being robbed or the crime elements,” Rommel said. Everett’s nuisance ordinance “is telling them (patients) ‘grow your own’ or get deliveries,” he said.
Sean Green, of the Shoreline-based garden Pacific Northwest Medical, said the protest is about access to medical marijuana and the ability for recreational growers to be in Everett.
The nuisance ordinance affects marijuana distributors, although city officials emphasize the ordinance is not about recreational growing.
“I think they’re being counterproductive at this point,” Green said.
The city of Mukilteo was one of the first cities in Snohomish County to adopt zoning laws for collective gardens. The city of Snohomish is now considering adopting rules possibly using Mukilteo’s ordinance as a template.