City Council begins to tackle medical marijuana
SNOHOMISH - The City Council is moving forward with drafting a medical marijuana ordinance that will treat it as a nuisance, similar to regulations Everett recently adopted.
City staff last week outlined several options for dealing with medical marijuana providers as the city nears the expiration of its most recent six-month moratorium on the issue.
The city’s options are as follows: do nothing and let the moratorium expire, permit and regulate them completely through the development code, selectively regulate them through the nuisance code, ban them altogether, or continue with the moratorium.
“There is no one right answer,” city planner Owen Dennison said, because the inconsistencies between state and federal law still exist.
The five City Council members present at a workshop meeting last week decided to move forward with narrowly defining medical marijuana providers through the nuisance code, which will allow the city to avoid having to administer business licenses.
Medical marijuana providers only would be allowed in areas where they are not considered a nuisance.
“It’s complicated and this approach recognizes that there is confusion out there,” Councilman Paul Kaftanski said. “In my mind, it’s a go-slow approach.”
Based on council members’ comments, city staff will write a draft ordinance, which should be ready for review in March.
The draft ordinance will identify zoning and land use designations where medical marijuana providers would be considered a nuisance and wouldn’t be allowed, Dennison said.
“The council members did indicate that they want to not take the most restrictive view of (medical marijuana) but to allow collective gardens to occur in some matter in the city,” Dennison said.
Council members were in favor of creating a buffer zone around sensitive areas, like schools, of 500 or 1,000 feet.
Two medical marijuana providers who own dispensaries in the county spoke at the City Council meeting that followed the workshop.
“I think they’re going in the right direction, but I’d like to see them go more toward a zoning law,” said Tim, co-owner of Patient2Patient, a medical marijuana store in Mukilteo. Tim preferred not to give his last name.
He said he worries creating an ordinance through the nuisance code will create too much subjectivity.
“They could change their mind about how you do your business,” Tim said. “Basically collective gardens are a business just like any other, with the objective to make money. If you take the law out and you can only take 10 patients, we won’t be able to afford to stay open.”
Under state law, a collective garden can have only 10 patients growing up to 15 plants per person. Many are skirting the rule by opening up storefront dispensaries with a rotating patient list.
Tim, as well as the other medical marijuana provider who spoke to the council, said the number of medical marijuana users is highly underestimated by the city.
“I think they need to take a breadth of what they think is best for their community,” Tim said.
He did agree, however, with some of the buffer regulations suggested by the city and said he’d like to see dispensaries zoned away from schools.
“I’d love to be located in Snohomish,” Tim said. “I would think there are more areas that would be acceptable for gardens, but I think that’s up to them.”
Kaftanski said he looks forward to seeing the draft ordinance and acknowledged the need to move forward.
Further complicating the issue is the recent passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use for people 21 and older. The state Liquor Control Board is tasked with writing rules for growing, distributing and selling marijuana for recreational use. The board has until December to come up with the rules.
Snohomish’s ordinance just addresses medical marijuana.
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