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Kent City Council committee passes medical marijuana dispensary, collective gardens ban

Protestors line up outside of Kent City Hall Monday, May 14 to oppose a proposed city ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens.  - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Protestors line up outside of Kent City Hall Monday, May 14 to oppose a proposed city ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

The majority of the Kent City Council apparently wants to just say no to medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens.

Despite pleas at a public hearing from more than two dozen people who want the two collective garden businesses in Kent kept open, the council's Economic and Community Development Committee voted 2-1 Monday night at a packed City Hall to ban medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens from the city. Council members Bill Boyce and Deborah Ranniger voted for the ban. Jamie Perry opposed it.

The proposed ordinance now goes June 5 to the full seven-member council, where it appears to have the four votes needed to adopt the ban unless a couple of council members change their current stands.

"We adopted this and it will go to the full council where we will talk about it," Boyce said to the crowd at the public hearing. "Between that time and now I promise you I will be open minded and talk to people I need to talk to and visit some of these (collective gardens) places and that's how I will make my decision.

"But right now I strongly believe this is something that we as a council we need to talk about it. We've had a moratorium twice and we owe it to ourselves and to you to make a decision for the city of Kent whether it is right or wrong in your view. We no longer need to prolong this."

Boyce joined council members Les Thomas and Dana Ralph in a 3-0 vote April 23 on the Public Safety Committee to recommend that the Economic and Community Development committee pass an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens from the city. That trio plus Ranniger would give the ordinance four votes.

Ranniger said she favors a ban because federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, even though state law allows medical marijuana use. She also said the state definition on what defines a collective garden remains unclear.

"If the state defines medical dispensaries as a legal entity that could dispense medical marijuana that's another story," Ranniger said. "But they in fact, do not. And they created this new definition which these professional medical clinics that are trying to wrap their brains around and change who they are to comply with the state regulations. And that feels kind of shady and like a sham to me.

"I'm not happy with what the state has done. And the way it's defined right now saying that medical cannabis dispensaries are illegal that hasn't changed. I don't see how these professional dispensaries that everybody's talking about this evening are now suddenly collective gardens where patients are engaging in the production of marijuana."

Many who testified at the public hearing are patients at the Evergreen Association of Collective Gardens in Kent. Herbal Choice Caregivers is the other collective garden in town.

The patients told the committee that the use of marijuana has helped them as they combat their chronic pain and illnesses, eliminating the need for prescription pills that made them sick.

Pam Larsen, of Kent, told the committee that Evergreen has helped her fight chronic pain and aided her husband, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. She said she used to buy marijuana off the streets.

"Evergreen is the safest I've ever been in," Larson said. "I've walked into other places and they scare me. I walk in there and feel like I'm at my mother's home. You're treated like family."

Larson pleaded with the committee to allow the collective gardens and "please don't send me back to the streets" to buy marijuana.

Perry said she supports zoning regulations for collective gardens and opposes a ban.

"This was decided for me long ago when the voter initiative was passed," said Perry about the 1998 statewide vote. "That was the voters of this state speaking and saying that medical marijuana patients should have access. The state law to me is sort of giving a little bit more meat to that and better defining how that's going to happen."

Perry, an attorney, said she thinks if the city adopted a ban, the state would eventually come in and tell the city it does not have that authority.

Douglas Hiatt, an attorney representing Evergreen Association of Collective Gardens and its owner Charles Lambert, told the committee he doesn't understand why the city's going after medical marijuana dispensaries.

"I do not know what has happened with the city of Kent and I do not know why but I believe that your mayor and potentially your city attorney are starting a war on medical marijuana for no reason," Hiatt said. "It's clear to me that state law does not allow you to do what you're doing if you decide to enact a total ban."

Lambert testified that he wants to keep on operating in order to help the medical marijuana patients.

"Whether you ban it or we sit down and work something out, it'll be a fight to the end," Lambert said. "I also invite every council member and the mayor to come down and see what we do."

Hiatt promised a lawsuit on behalf of Evergreen if the city passes a ban.

"We'll have no choice but to take you to court," he said. "If you pass this ban you'll force us to file and get an injunction to stop what you're doing because what you're doing is wrong."

Cooke, in a phone interview Tuesday, said her job is "to enforce the law" and that she promises to do that along with police officers when she swears them into office.

"They take an oath of office to uphold the laws of the United States, the state of Washington and the city of Kent," Cooke said. "Until medical marijuana is legal in some form at the federal level, it'll create a disconnect on enforcement no matter how far our state liberalizes the law.

"I'm in an uncomfortable position if I determine what laws we enforce. I encourage people who want medical marijuana to change the federal law. As mayor I need to uphold the laws and the laws do not allow medical marijuana from a point of distribution."

Council members Dennis Higgins and Elizabeth Albertson are expected to oppose the ban on June 5. Both voted against the current six-month moratorium to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. They also have voted in favor of a zoning ordinance for collective gardens that failed to get a majority vote.

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