The City Council voted Tuesday evening to recommend a moratorium on local regulation of medical marijuana and community gardens while consideration of current federal and state policies are reviewed in response to SB 5073.
“The reason for the discussion ... tonight, is that the passage of the act in partial form, with the vetoes and the act passed by legislators, has created some significant confusion about local regulation, and frankly, state regulation,” City Attorney Laura McAloon said.
According to the Washington State Department of Health website, sections of a bill addressing medical use of cannabis, or medical marijuana, signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire were made effective on July 22.
Initially, the intention of the act was to clarify the legal uses of medical marijuana, McAloon said. Medical marijuana was first authorized by initiative in the state of Washington in 1998.
The act does not legalize marijuana, and possession of the drug in Washington is still a crime, she said. The intention of the act is to provide someone who has been issued a citation for possession of marijuana the ability to provide evidence that he or she is a qualified patient as determined by a licensed medical doctor and that the use of marijuana is needed for treatment of a medical condition.
“As a result, there has been more confusion in the areas of possession of medical marijuana, dispensing and manufacturing of it,” she said. “In addition, the federal government through the April 14, 2011, letter has clearly indicated that state laws legalizing possession and the manufacturing of marijuana do not preempt the federal government’s criminalization of such acts.”
There is a definite conflict between the state of Washington legalizing certain portions of the use of medical marijuana and the federal government’s complete banning of all marijuana usage, McAloon said. The federal government holds all cases of marijuana as a federal crime and continues to prosecute it as such.
“The Legislature in the act has authorized cities, towns and counties to adopt and enforce zoning requirements, business licensing requirements, safety requirements and business taxes on use and provision of sale of marijuana,” she said.
Due to the conflicting provisions between state and federal law and the inconsistencies of the act created by the selected vetoes of the governor, determining a plan of action is going to take time, she said.
“A number of cities in Washington have imposed moratoriums, in order to give staff time to come up with an analysis of what cities need to do in terms of regulating use of medical marijuana and where community gardens can be grown,” McAloon said.
Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins proposed issues that arose with the Senate bill and allowing community gardens.
“Washington law currently allows personal possession of qualifying patients of medical marijuana of what is described as a 60-day supply, that is further defined as 24 ounces and 15 plants,” Jenkins said. “Based on the current value of marijuana in the area, personal possession value is approximately $42,000.”
Under the definition of a community garden, 24 ounces and 45 plants has a value of $126,000, he said. Marijuana has sold at two and a quarter times standard value, which raises the collective garden value up to about $283,000.
Marijuana is an attractive target for thieves, other medical marijuana distributors and users, Jenkins said. Medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the nation have experienced crime and crimes related to medical marijuana have also occurred in Pullman.
“It has been our experience that those we find with medical marijuana cards are typically young, college aged with no discernable debilitating illnesses,” he said.
Councilman Bill Paul said Pullman's policy should represent what has occurred federally and across the state.
“Since marijuana is federally illegal in any way, shape or form, normally we stand as a city to enforce the federal law,” Paul said.
By placing a moratorium, it is causing the medicinal marijuana patients to receive their medicine through the black market and other unsafe sources, said Charles Rollins, President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Medicinal marijuana patients want to become part of the community.
“People who operate community gardens would be at increased risk for theft,” Rollins said. “I need to bring up awareness that these people are already afraid of having the medicine stolen from police. This is a huge issue.”