Clark County seems to be leaning against marijuana gardens

Legality is murky because feds say pot is an illicit substance

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County commissioners are pausing for one week before deciding how to regulate collective gardens for medical marijuana.

But the indication the board gave at Tuesday's public hearing is that medical marijuana gardens will not be allowed in this county.

All three commissioners seemed to be in agreement that they'd rather not get into the murky legality surrounding the issue.

Commissioner Tom Mielke again mentioned the oft-repeated saying "rock and a hard place" to describe the county's situation.

While the state allowed collective gardens back in 2011, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illicit substance.

And the county commissioners are tasked with upholding both state and federal law.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he finds it troubling to have county staff handling any type of permit on the matter, because county counsel has stated that could make them participants in a federally banned activity.

The state laws allow medical marijuana growers to establish community gardens where as many as 10 patients can grow up to 45 plants.

The city of Vancouver elected in December to zone the gardens to specific areas of town.

The commissioners placed a moratorium on the gardens in unincorporated Clark County as staff drafted a plan.

Commissioners are now requesting two proposals be reworked and returned to them at a July 2 meeting.

One option would functionally ban the gardens in the county. A second option would extend the moratorium in an effort to allow time for courts to establish some case law.

Six members of the public asked commissioners to reconsider a ban at the public hearing. One individual spoke in favor of the ban.

James E. Barber asked commissioners to rework their intentions. "If you don't, it's going to court," he said.

Hanna Perez fought back tears as she told commissioners of a cousin suffering from cancer. She said the best option for her cousin was to imbibe marijuana, and that limiting collective

gardens would be an affront to folks in need of such relief.

"He is a loved one, a friend, and a citizen, a resident, of this state and county," Perez said. "Do what is right. Do what is forward-thinking."

Commissioner David Madore said the matter isn't a ruling on the acceptability of marijuana use, but that the commissioners were, rather, looking at what is legal under federal law.

And because of that, Madore said, "there's only one choice."

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