Washington: Kitsap cities cloudy on how to handle provisions of medical pot law
By Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun
BREMERTON — Legislation passed revising Washington state's medical marijuana laws this year turned the focus from dispensaries to collective gardens.
But Kitsap County's cities have been slow to shift gears.
Legislators last spring debated a revision of Washington State's medical marijuana law dealing with cannabis dispensaries. Proponents of the bill (ESSB 5073) sought regulation of dispensaries to clarify their legitimacy. After Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed the bill, however, the only substantive new option for authorized patients was a provision for collective gardens.But Kitsap County officials have not moved as swiftly on regulations of gardens as their peers around the Puget Sound region did. And local opinions are all over the board.
The new state law, effective July 22, allows up to 10 authorized patients to cultivate up to 45 cannabis plants in a single location, but no individual can own more than 15 plants. Not clear in the law is how many gardens can be on one tax parcel, how many gardens a patient can belong to or the minimum length of time a patient must be a collective garden member.
The lack of clarity has unsettled cities and counties around the state, many of which recently enacted moratoriums or interim zoning ordinances on the gardens, essentially buying time to weigh the law's ramifications.
Mason County passed a six-month moratorium. Gig Harbor has a temporary zoning ordinance limiting where the gardens can locate.
The city of Bremerton plans to enact a moratorium on medical cannabis gardens, City Attorney Roger Lubovich announced Friday. A public hearing on the moratorium is set for Aug. 17, when the council is expected to adopt it.
Lubovich said his city's initial reaction was "it's a garden, we're not going to worry about it."
On closer examination, it appeared the city's zoning laws did not allow for collective gardens in any area of the city, Lubovich said. Residential gardens are only for property owners' use. The city lacks agricultural zoning in other areas. And even if the gardens were to become an allowed use, the city must decide whether and how to permit them if they're located in greenhouses or buildings. Also unclear is whether clusters of gardens qualify as commercial enterprises, subject to business licensing and taxes.
Lubovich is concerned about how federal authorities might view a cluster of gardens.
"We could have SKIA (the largely undeveloped South Kitsap Industrial Area) with acres out there as crops. Is that OK? That's what we need to sort out," Lubovich said.
The Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday will consider extending its six-month moratorium on marijuana dispensaries — enacted as ESSB 5073 was being debated — but City Attorney Greg Jacoby said the issue of gardens is not prominent on the city's radar.
Jacoby and Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola believe the city's pre-emptive strike on medical cannabis operations has made the city less attractive to anyone considering a collective garden.
"The council has made it clear — as has our police chief — that as long as marijuana remains a federal issue, we'll have a zero-tolerance policy," Coppola said.
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said her City Council should discuss its moratorium on dispensaries before mid-September, when it expires. The council likely will address cannabis gardens at the same time if not sooner.
"We're working with our attorneys to figure out what the next step should be," Erickson said. "We're really in a holding pattern."
Kitsap County is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"While we have briefly discussed this recent legislation, we are working on plenty of other issues," said County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. "At this time, Kitsap County is not looking to adopt regulations unless it becomes evident that such regulation is needed. At that time, we will evaluate what has worked in other jurisdictions and what is necessary in Kitsap.
The Bainbridge Island City Council has not discussed changes to the law.
"No one's asked us to bring it up," said Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos. "I have no idea where the council would stand, or the community ... It's not come to our attention."
The provision for collective gardens was almost an "afterthought" of the bill, said Candice Bock, legislative and policy advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. After Gregoire took state employees out of the regulatory loop, counties and cities were left to sort through the complex and contradictory implications of the law, she said.
Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon said the law, as it's written, puts counties and cities between a (state) rock and a (federal) hard place.
"Here I am asked to regulate a product that's illegal under federal law," Sheldon said. "I think the state needs to step in and solve this."
Sheldon, D-Potlatch, also represents the 35th District in the state Senate in Olympia. During debate of the medical marijuana bill, he tried unsuccessfully to add amendments giving local governments more authority in regulating land use where the gardens are concerned.
Sheldon supports legal access to medical cannabis but voted against the bill. He said county officials need time to properly define the collective gardens.
"We need to know if this is an agricultural activity or a retail storefront," Sheldon said. "There is just no rational information on where they should be located."
Sheldon believes Mason County, where prosecutors and law enforcement have taken a hands-off approach to dispensaries, has become a magnet for medical cannabis activity.
Lori Kent, co-owner of Mari Meds in Belfair, supplies authorized patients. She has no plans for a collective cannabis garden. But she knows plenty of others sidetracked by the moratorium.
"Some people had gone as far as to lease warehouses," Kent said. "Some people had made big plans and those plans are dashed."
Calling herself "an unlikely ally" of Sheldon, Kent said she supports zoning to keep collective gardens away from schools, parks and churches. But she said the moratorium is unfair to those too sick to grow their own cannabis.
Gardens established in the spirit of the law likely won't draw attention, said Bock, but a cluster of gardens could become a target for crime and a public nuisance.
"I don't want to have kids walking to elementary school, walking past a marijuana garden," said Gig Harbor Police Chief Mike Davis. "I guess you paint yourself that picture, it doesn't seem like that would be a very good thing to have in our community."Gig Harbor's temporary zoning prohibits the gardens except in a plot of undeveloped land by Highway 16 that is zoned as the city's "employment district." No gardens have located there yet.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Franich said the City Council is searching for a solution that will comply with state law, protect the citizens of Gig Harbor and allow for the availability of medical cannabis to those who need it.
"That's really easily said, not so easily done," Franich said.
What other cities have done
Seattle treats marijuana shops as any other business. The City Council will look at zoning for medical marijuana facilities.
Tacoma's moratorium on medical marijuana applies to both shops and gardens. Gardens are forbidden whether or not they are connected to a business.
Federal Way has imposed a six-month moratorium on collective gardens.
Gig Harbor has authorized collective gardens in city's undeveloped "employment district."
Mason County has imposed a six-month ban on medical marijuana gardens.
Kirkland has maintained a moratorium on medical marijuana.
After first allowing medical marijuana gardens, the Everett City Council votes to put a 12-month moratorium on them.
Ellensburg allows the gardens but requires they be indoors and at least 300 feet from schools.
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