College Place Council OKs medical marijuana rule

The law is intended to protect city workers from being caught in a conflict between state and federal law.

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A brief history

The following is a "a brief history of the (Washington state) medical marijuana regulations" as presented to the College Place City Council Monday:

1998 -- Initiative 692 was passed by Washington voters to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. It was codified as Chapter 69.51A of the (Revised Code of Washington) even though marijuana still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

2007 -- The Legislature clarified RCW 69.51A by determining that a medically authorized person could possess a 60-day supply of medicinal marijuana. However, cultivating still remains a felony under federal law.

2011 -- The Legislature attempted to address the conflict through a bill (E2SSB 5073) which passed in April 2011 and went into effect July 22 of that year. This bill provided for collective gardening of medical marijuana and allowed local cities and counties to adopt zoning and health regulations governing the production and distribution of medical marijuana.

A majority of the bill was vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. (However) Section 403 remains in place which allows qualifying patients to jointly maintain collective gardens for cultivating cannabis for medical use.

The legislation also permits growing marijuana in collective gardens with no more restrictions than it cannot be grown in public view and contain no more than 15 plants per patient for a total of up to 45 plants.

July 2012 -- There was hope that the Legislature would act to remedy the confusion caused by the partial veto of (E2SSB) 5073, however, action by the Legislature did not occur this past session.

Communities are struggling with finding ways to deal with this issue and not put elected officials and city staff in violation of either state or federal law. After consultation with other cities, their attorneys and the U.S. Department of Justice, an ordinance has been drafted with sets up the structure for collective gardens.

The permitting process requires registering with the Police Department and requiring, among other things, written and official documentation from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration certifying the medical cannabis applicant/operator's compliance with all applicable state and federal laws relating to any cannabis product or products in the processing, distribution and/or cultivation of marijuana.

— Medical marijuana growers take note. Check in with the cops before you plant your pot in College Place.

A new law approved Monday by the City Council requires people growing medical marijuana in collective gardens to register with the city police. Growers must also provide "documented confirmation from the United States Department of Justice of compliance with all applicable federal laws regarding the production, processing, distribution or cultivation of marijuana for medical use."

After discussing the issue, the council approved the ordinance by a vote of 6-1, with Councilman Steve Dickerson casting the "no" vote.

Mayor Rick Newby, who proposed the ordinance, said it is intended to protect city employees from being caught between state law, which allows local governments to regulate marijuana growers, and the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In a letter to the Council, Newby said the ordinance was proposed after he and city staff had invested "considerable time researching, deliberating and investigating the issue of medical marijuana -- an endeavor made necessary by action taken in the 2011 legislative session."

"The collective garden provision within Washington state law creates a new cause of action and could significantly increase demand on the city for both legal and police services," Newby wrote. "Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 federally-controlled substance and, despite state-level protections, municipalities remain vulnerable to criminal prosecution when, on the one hand, permitting that which federal law prohibits and, on the other, to civil litigation when restricting that which state law allows."

Newby acknowledged that discussing and acting on the issue might expose the city "to the potential for undesirable publicity." But said that was outweighed by the consequences of not taking action.

"Any publicity we might receive by establishing a clear and cogent policy will be insignificant in comparison to that which we will definitely incur from a criminal incident involving the cultivation and distribution of marijuana -- especially any event involving violence and injury.

"The public understands that any law by itself cannot prevent crime, but nevertheless they expect prudent protective measures to be established when possible ... The proposed ordinance allows us to meet these expectations and communicates to the community that we share their values and are vested in their safety and well-being," Newby said.

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