Clark County commissioners extend ban on collective marijuana gardens

Commissioners Madore, Mielke worried gardens violate federal law

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County is extending a ban on collective marijuana gardens for up to another year.

The ban is considered temporary, and is set to expire July 9, 2014, or when Clark County commissioners decide to address the issue further.

The temporary ordinance banning the gardens was approved Tuesday morning by a vote of 2-1. Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke were in favor of the ban, while Commissioner Steve Stuart stood in dissent.

The commissioners were tasked with making a decision on the matter as a one-year moratorium halting the gardens in unincorporated Clark County expired on June 10.

And while the newly approved ban goes by a different name than a moratorium, it essentially keeps the status quo. The gardens remain forbidden in the county until a more robust policy can be decided upon.

Mielke has long stood by the belief that the county needs to be cautious moving forward with any rules regarding medical marijuana. His reasoning is that while the state has allowed medical use, the federal government still sees the drug as illegal.

On Tuesday, he said the competing regulations have “hung us out, locally.”

“I think we need to have more direction from the bigger governments that control us,” Mielke said, advocating for the temporary ban.

The state authorized the gardens in 2011, allowing medical marijuana growers to pool resources and establish gardens where as many as 10 patients can grow up to 45 plants total.

Mielke said he believes the state Legislature will eventually revisit the rules. He also said he would like to hear the outcome of an ongoing legal challenge to the city of Kent’s decision to ban the gardens.

And until then, he asked the board to put the matter on pause.

Madore agreed with Mielke’s assertion that the board is tasked with following both state and federal law. He concluded the best practice would be to follow the federal rules until more clarity is offered.

Stuart agreed with his fellow commissioners in spirit, saying the board was “doing the best we can navigating some very rough waters.”

But Stuart said his vote against the ordinance came from concern that the board was dictating personal freedoms.

A second option before the board on Tuesday was favored by Stuart, as it allowed the gardens but removed what he saw as “commercial” aspects of the operations. Specifically, it placed time limits on how quickly individuals could join and quit the collective.

Stuart made a point to clarify at the end of the meeting that the county is not dictating a ban on individuals growing medical marijuana within their own homes.

Five individuals spoke to commissioners on the matter before the decision was made. Four requested commissioners relax the ban on the gardens, while one said he agreed with some restrictions on such gardens.

Megan McDonagh used crutches to make her way up to the front of the room to speak, and lifted her left leg onto a table to show commissioners a walking boot.

McDonagh said she suffers from an ailment that causes drastic amounts of pain in most of her lower body.

“What I don’t understand is why you feel it necessary to tell me how to take care of my own needs,” McDonagh said.

She then implored commissioners to take no action and allow Clark County residents to use the state law allowing the gardens.