Clark County mulls language on pot gardens

Madore asks about wording allowing them, with disclaimer

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County commissioners are trying to find a balance between state and federal law over collective gardens for medical marijuana.

During a Tuesday work session, Commissioner David Madore suggested county legal counsel look at ways to draft language both allowing the gardens to exist and precluding the county from legal responsibility.

"Can we grant permission to do something, but with a disclaimer?" Madore asked deputy prosecuting attorney Chris Horne.

Madore said he is looking for language that notes the county does not endorse nor authorize any illegal use under federal law, such as the growing of marijuana.

Horne said he thinks the county could include such a stipulation in county code.

"Given the difficult position the state has put you in … yeah. It's a good idea," Horne said.

The county is stuck in a tough spot considering whether to allow collective marijuana gardens. The state allowed the gardens in 2011. The gardens allow medical marijuana growers to establish community gardens where as many as 10 patients can grow up to 45 plants.

But the county is also tasked with upholding federal law, which classifies marijuana as an illicit substance.

The county placed a moratorium on gardens until this June to come up with an implementation plan that deals with the diametrically opposing laws.

In November, Commissioner Tom Mielke and former Commissioner Marc Boldt directed staff to draft language banning the gardens from the county. The move was intended to uphold federal law. But it was noted at the time that other jurisdictions in the state have been sued as a result of prohibiting a use allowed under state law.

Madore's request for legal guidance on a disclaimer on such use may offer a way to work within both state and federal laws. Still, Madore said he was upset the county was involved in such talk.

"I want to make it clear that the reason I'm pursuing trying to find a solution here is not motivated by the desire for our citizens to be able do something that violates my own conscience," Madore said. "Instead, it is my motivation to ensure the county does not become liable and party to something, accessory to something, that should not be happening in the first place. We should not be having this conversation in the first place; we are forced to in this situation."

Mielke stuck to his desire to see the gardens prohibited.

"I think we're trying really, really hard to do something that's illegal," Mielke said.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he saw the points both of his fellow commissioners were making and asked for legal counsel to draw up both ordinances, one banning the use and one allowing it but removing the county from liability.

The matter will be brought to the county's planning commission in April. Before any regulations are ratified, commissioners will hold a public hearing on the matter.

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