County moving toward ban on collective marijuana gardens

Commissioners Boldt, Mielke concerned that they violate federal law

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: November 28, 2012, 7:59 PM

 

Clark County is moving toward a ban on collective medical marijuana gardens.

Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke both instructed county staff at a Wednesday morning workshop meeting to begin work on a policy that would prohibit the gardens as an acceptable land use in the county. Commissioner Steve Stuart was absent from the meeting.

The gardens allow medical marijuana growers to establish community gardens where as many as 10 patients can grow up to 45 plants. The state approved the gardens last year, but the county placed a moratorium on them until June 2013 to come up with an implementation plan.

Boldt and Mielke both said they are concerned that allowing the gardens would fly in the face of federal law, which prohibits marijuana use, sale and cultivation. Commissioners also said they would prefer to wait and see how the federal government handles voter-approved Initiative 502, which will allow adults older than 21 to use recreational marijuana.

“We took an oath to uphold the federal law, too,” Mielke said. “I think there are too many unanswered questions here. For us to move forward (on allowing zoning) would be premature.”

Commissioners also referenced a letter the county received from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as a reason for their decision. That letter said if the county were to be involved in the permitting or regulation of such gardens, it could be in violation of federal law.

Another option presented to the board attempts to skirt that concern by simply zoning the use and staying out of the development and permitting process. But commissioners elected to play it safe and avoid the matter entirely.

The ban isn’t county law yet. An ordinance establishing a ban likely won’t go to the board for adoption until just before the moratorium is set to expire in June.

Mielke pointed out that gives the board “another four or five months” to discuss the situation as members observe how the federal government reacts to Initiative 502.

Commissioner-elect David Madore will replace Boldt in January, making him a voting member on the future ordinance. He said he agreed with the county’s decision to ban the use, as it goes against federal law.

Banning the use isn’t unprecedented. The city of Kent has banned the gardens, and that ban was upheld by King County Superior Court in October. The city of Camas also bans the gardens, saying land use not allowed by state and federal law is prohibited.

Chris Horne, a county deputy prosecuting attorney, told commissioners at the meeting he did not believe the county was endangering itself legally with the ban.

The city of Vancouver appears to be taking a different approach. Earlier this month the city council tentatively, agreed on a plan to zone the gardens in heavy and light industrial areas.

A public hearing on the city ordinance is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com.