Camden: Medical marijuana rules confuse

By Jim Camden, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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Whether she realized it or not last spring when wielding her “partial veto” pen, Gov. Chris Gregoire has prompted a hodgepodge of pot laws around the state and a fair amount of confusion among the cities.

In Seattle, where possession of a small amount of marijuana is less likely to bring public condemnation than drinking mediocre coffee, medical marijuana dispensaries are being told to register as businesses, pay their taxes, meet building codes, and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But be advised: No-smoking laws apply to smoking medical marijuana, too.

In Spokane, dispensaries are being raided by federal agents. There is a city ballot initiative supporting medical marijuana on file with the city clerk, although sponsors managed to miss all deadlines for making this year’s ballot.

In Ellensburg, people who want medical marijuana are told to get a permit and grow it in an indoor collective garden that can’t be observed from public places and aren’t within 300 feet of schools and other “youth oriented facilities.”

Castle Rock and Shoreline have some temporary rules for collective gardens, while Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Snohomish, and Tukwila have temporary moratoria on such operations. Tacoma has a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, but city officials reportedly have no plans to shut down the marijuana dispensaries they already have, let alone stop any new ones that might decide to open. In Southwest Washington, both Clark County and Vancouver city officials have enacted moratoriums.

Gregoire is not solely responsible for this, of course. She got a bill from the Legislature that had already been trashed by a pair of U.S. attorneys. Part of the problem is a disconnect between the federal government, while voters in states like Washington put marijuana somewhere between a reliable home remedy and a wonder drug.

Clear as mud

The new law — what’s left of it, anyway, after Gregoire’s veto — doesn’t countenance dispensaries. It continues to allow for collective gardens, where as many as 10 people can have as many as 45 marijuana plants. But it gives cities the authority to restrict where these gardens can be. Or even if they can be.

By requiring gardens to be inside, the city of Ellensburg may have hit on a way to keep them out of sight as well as stop the casual midnight theft of one or two handfuls of smokeable stuff. But they will raise the electric bills for heat and grow lights.

Does Ellensburg have any such gardens? “Not that I’m aware of. We don’t think so,” City Attorney Jim Pidduck said. Different cities are doing different things, he said. “Everybody’s just struggling to come up with the appropriate response.”

Unclear, however, is whether a garden actually has to have growing marijuana plants. Could a collective garden merely have the harvested product, which it could dispense — strike that, dispensaries are illegal — provide to members of the collective?

“We don’t know the answer to that,” said Candace Bock of the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, which gets regular questions about the state of marijuana laws in the state.

Where they obtain that pre-grown product might have to be left to the imagination or the entrepreneurial spirits of the collective.

The Legislature is bound to take this all up in next year’s session, although whether it will make the situation better or worse is anyone’s guess. Steve Sarich of Canna Care, which operates dispensaries and clinics in the Seattle area, is suing the state over vagueness in the new law rather than waiting for a do-over in the Legislature.

Even if the law gets changed for the better, it’s not likely to take effect until sometime next summer, Sarich said. “What are medical marijuana patients supposed to do until then?”