In Our View: Pot Gardens: Not Yet

Legislature OK’d them earlier this year, but city, county leaders enact moratoriums

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These aren’t the kind of “community gardens” most folks had in mind. Collective medical marijuana gardens become legal today as determined by the Legislature earlier this year.

But this dramatic shift toward legalized growing of cannabis for medical use won’t happen for several months in many municipalities around the state, including here. Vancouver city councilors made the proper decision on Monday — just as Clark County commissioners made the correct call last week — to postpone implementing the state’s new law that allows collective medical marijuana gardens. Both governing bodies have wisely decided that more time is needed to establish zoning regulations for the gardens. Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe got it right: “Without further state guidance, it’s not possible for cities at this time,” thus the six-month moratoriums that were enacted at both the county and city levels.

The issue at hand is not any lingering debate about collective medical marijuana gardens. That figurative train left the station on April 29 when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law several sections of Senate Bill 5073. (Local legislators voted on this measure along party lines — Democrats for, Republicans against — with two exceptions. State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, voted for it, and state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, voted against it.)

The current issue regards not if, but how, to implement the new law. This no longer is a drug debate; it’s a zoning matter. Rational minds should agree that collective medical marijuana gardens should not be allowed near schools, parks, churches, business districts and neighborhoods. Cmdr. Mike Cooke of the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force told the county commissioners that industrial zones might be one appropriate area, and we agree.

Another astute observation was made last week by Axel Swanson, senior policy analyst for Clark County commissioners. He said the county commissioners’ decision was not “about the board taking a position about the merits of medical marijuana. It was about the board making sure there was a proper public process before allowing this activity in the county.” And that community process will include public hearings in coming months.

According to the new state law, collective medical marijuana gardens are legal if they are limited to 10 people growing up to 45 plants at one site. No garden may have more than 15 plants per patient or contain more than 24 ounces of usable cannabis per patient, up to 72 ounces. Gov. Gregoire vetoed a provision that would have legalized dispensaries.

There are conflicting views about what the Legislature has done for or against local governments on this issue. It could be argued that state lawmakers have forced collective medical marijuana gardens upon communities that don’t want them, and that the implementation is hasty and surprises local elected officials. But a contrasting argument is that at least legislators left zoning regulations up to local jurisdictions, similar to the way the Legislature approves public education measures but leaves to local school boards any decisions about implementation.

Clearly, neither Vancouver city officials nor Clark County leaders are ready for collective medical marijuana gardens … yet. Shelving the matter for six months, and soliciting public input about the moratoriums, is the smart thing to do.