Kent City Council passes moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and collective grow operations | Vote split 5-2
July 7, 2011 · Updated 11:28 AM
The Kent City Council passed a six-month emergency moratorium Tuesday on the establishment and operation of medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries within the city limits on a 5-2 vote.
Voting yes were Council President Jamie Perry, council members Deborah Ranniger, Ron Harmon, Les Thomas and Debbie Raplee.
Voting no were Councilman Dennis Higgins and Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson. The moratorium required a super majority of five council votes for adoption.
The moratorium is effective immediately. But the council will have a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 19 in Council Chambers at City Hall, 220 Fourth Ave. S., to take testimony and consider adopting further findings. State law requires the council to hold a public hearing after the adoption of a moratorium.
Deputy City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick provided the council with a short history of the issues facing the city and the reason the staff is recommending a moratorium.
Fitzpatrick noted the Legislature passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries and collective grow operations, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed sections of the bill relating to the dispensaries.
According to the city's moratorium ordinance summary, the governor left the collective grow operations part of the bill intact, but vetoed the "the manner in which collective grows are to be regulated. This has resulted in a very confusing legal landscape which cities must now negotiate."
Fitzpatrick said the city has received numerous request for dispensaries to be located in the city over the past year. The attorney said if all had located in the city, "it would have been like Starbucks or McDonalds."
He pointed out the dispensaries are not legal. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic and it is not recognized by the federal government as a drug for medical purposes.
Fitzpatrick said the city's zoning regulations are not in place to deal with collective grow operations or dispensaries.
"There is a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainty in the law at this point," Fitzpatrick said. "A moratorium would give staff a chance to look at these issues, confer with our associates from other cities to see what they are planning to do on this."
He noted other cities have passed moratoriums regarding medical marijuana including Federal Way, Auburn, Sumner and Issaquah.
Higgins asked his fellow council members to join him in voting no on the ordinance.
The councilman said he believes, "there is a legitimate need for medical marijuana. I do believe there is a legitimate government need to regulate access similar to alcohol or similar to other pharmaceuticals."
The councilman stated as long as the federal government continues to list marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, "we are going to keep spinning our wheels on this level.... If you feel as I do, that having marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the controlled substances act is the wrong thing, then I urge you to join me in working that issue at the federal (level)."
Higgins agreed city zoning regulations were needed, but that could be accomplished without a moratorium.
"Finally, I also feel that the moratorium and this entire discussion leads to a sense of hysteria and irrational thought around this issue," Higgins said. "The same hysteria that has us allocating irrational amounts of law enforcement resources going after and incarcerating otherwise law abiding, peaceful citizens."
Albertson followed Higgins statement noting a moratorium was not necessary to establish zoning regulations.
"I have too many people in my family who are still living and too many in my family who have left who have suffered with pain and nausea," Albertson said. "And too many in my family have been hurt by pharmaceuticals that are available and haven't had the opportunity to be helped by some of those that are out there."
Perry said she didn't disagree with Higgins and Albertson, but thought voting against the moratorium left the city in a "very precarious position. Collective gardens are not something that has traditionally been allowed. It is a new access point we don't know anything about."
Perry said the city needs time to "step back and deal with the issues in terms of where we want them and where we don't, and give us a chance to really do it correctly."
The council president said she did not think the moratorium would limit access for patients now using medical marijuana.
"People have been getting their medical marijuana in different places," Perry said. "This doesn't limit their personal use and grow."
Raplee said she supported the ordinance because, "as a nation of laws, marijuana is still illegal and until it is changed – right, wrong or indifferent – we have to uphold the law."
City officials noted there are four medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city. The city delivered letters dated June 3 to the dispensaries noting the business were in violation of state law and requesting the dispensaries to cease operations.
Officials stated to date the businesses are still operating.