Battle Ground OKs medical pot moratorium

City will likely keep extending it until state adds clarity

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter



As Battle Ground looks poised to welcome its first recreational marijuana retailer in the coming months, medical marijuana still faces a clouded future in the city.

The Battle Ground City Council put a temporary ban on collective medical marijuana gardens Monday night, just three days after the state released its lottery results for marijuana retail license applicants. The state Liquor Control Board allotted one retail license for Battle Ground, and as the only small Clark County city without a moratorium, it could be one of the first places in Southwest Washington to open a pot shop.

Meanwhile, city officials share a general apprehension about medical marijuana as it continues to reside in a legal gray area, Mayor Shane Bowman said. Three years ago, the Legislature approved collective gardens as a legal means for cardholders to cultivate pot, but since then the state has failed to answer key questions about regulation and taxation for medical marijuana, Bowman said.

“It doesn’t have the security that it needs,” he said. “The law’s been very poorly written, and now everyone’s fairly confused about which way this is going to go.”

Since 2011, state law has held that health care providers could write recommendations, but not prescriptions, for medical marijuana. Patients could grow it on their own or in collective gardens, but the law barred dispensaries.

After the Legislature approved collective gardens in 2011, Battle Ground and a number of other cities enacted temporary bans in hopes that the state would provide some regulatory direction. Battle Ground officials continued to reinstate the ban until the 2012 election, when voters approved Initiative 502, legalizing recreational marijuana.

In the recent legislative session, they hoped the state might address the questions about medical marijuana. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, attempted to do so with a failed bill that would have created a registry for medical marijuana patients and providers.

The bill would have directed revenue to counties and cities from taxes levied on medical marijuana. It also would have phased out collective gardens and created a licensing option for dispensaries.

“We were assuming that the state would lump all of it together,” Bowman said, referring to regulations for medical and recreational marijuana. “They’ve done a good job of putting money first instead of legislation.”

The confusion thickened for local leaders at the end of March, when Division 1 of the state Court of Appeals decided in the Arthur West v. city of Kent case that Kent had the authority to ban collective gardens. Furthermore, the court ruled that collective gardens aren’t even legal in the state.

Battle Ground’s new moratorium quickly passed with a slam-dunk 7-0 vote when it came up at the Monday night council meeting. At this point, the ban is set to carry on for just 60 days, but the city will likely extend the moratorium until the state takes action, Bowman said.

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