Commissioners extend ban on pot gardens

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: August 16, 2011, 6:50 PM

 

Clark County commissioners voted Tuesday to extend a moratorium on collective medical marijuana gardens.

The moratorium, which commissioners approved on an emergency basis in July, will be in effect for one year, after which it could be extended.

No one who testified during a public hearing Tuesday was in support of allowing the collective gardens, which are permissible under state law.

The gardens have become a sticky issue for local governments, which need to establish zoning districts where gardens can be located. Commissioners set policy for unincorporated areas, which include Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek and Felida; most cities have enacted six-month bans.

The new state law conflicts with federal law.

As recently as June 29, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion that people “who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substance Act, regardless of state law.”

Commissioner Steve Stuart said if there’s liability associated with permitting medical marijuana gardens, “there’s not much to talk about. For me, that’s the end of the conversation.”

Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke agreed.

Under a state law that took effect July 22, patients and designated providers can come together and plant a collective garden with no more than 45 plants.

Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed many other sections of a legislative bill that was meant to provide a structure to regulate and license the use, distribution and processing of medical marijuana.

In 1998, state voters approved Initiative 692, which decriminalized the limited use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from a terminal or debilitating illness. The law was expanded in 2007 to include the definition of diseases and conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed.

Axel Swanson, the county’s senior policy adviser, wrote in a report to commissioners that the county has received calls and input from neighborhood associations, members of law enforcement, medical providers and patients.

Commander Mike Cooke of the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force said there are “unintended consequences” of allowing marijuana to be grown for medicinal purposes. In 2008, the county had 12 marijuana-related robberies, he said. That number doubled in 2010, and the county’s on track for another increase this year. The potential for problems is clear, Cooke said.

A 12-month moratorium will give staff time to study the issue and develop suitable guidelines, he said.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.