Pubdate: Wed, 24 Aug 2011
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic (WA)
Copyright: 2011 Yakima Herald-Republic
Author: Mark Morey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Brian Grimmer broke his back in a motorcycle 
crash years ago.

He healed pretty quickly, but the pain from a cracked vertebrae 
eventually returned, forcing him onto narcotic pain medication.

He decided to give marijuana a try, and says it worked. When he came 
from Oregon to enroll at Central Washington University last fall, he 
switched back to pain pills because it was difficult to find a legal 
supply of medical marijuana.

By January, the 42-year-old was hooked on the pills and gaining 
weight. In April, a health-care provider authorized him for a medical 
marijuana card, and his life changed.

"Shortly after that. I moved off campus and haven't had a pill since 
then. And unlike last time, I'm not going back to the pills," Grimmer said.

Now Grimmer is researching whether he can apply to operate a 
collective medical marijuana garden under a state law that took effect in July.

But he has a tricky path ahead of him as cities try to figure out 
exactly what they can and must do under the new law without running 
afoul of federal law, which doesn't recognize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The continuing debate over the legality of marijuana has put 
Washington cities in an awkward position. Like much of the rest of 
the state, the Yakima Valley's local governments are grappling with 
the mixed message.

Some cities haven't done anything yet, putting them in the same boat 
as many of the 281 cities around the state, according to a municipal 
lobbyist monitoring the issue. Others have enacted six-month 
moratoriums, seeking time to iron out zoning and other regulations 
about the collective gardens that are now allowed under state law.

"I think cities for the most part are sympathetic to patients who 
have found value in using medical marijuana, but it's a much bigger 
issue than that for them," said Candice Bock, a lobbyist on criminal 
justice issues for the Association of Washington Cities. "It's very 
complex balancing all of the different potential impacts. It's a real 

Ellensburg is the only Central Washington city so far to push ahead 
with a temporary ordinance allowing collective gardens, earning 
praise from local advocates for medical marijuana. Residents have not 
rushed down to City Hall to submit applications.

"I would say it's been muted," Ellensburg's city attorney Jim Pittick said.

Given the legal quandary, Yakima has opted for an emergency 
moratorium, which gives officials six months to craft a local 
ordinance while potentially blocking garden operators who might be 
tempted to jump into operation and argue they are exempt from regulation.

Whatever course of action a city takes, the ambiguity of the law 
means litigation is possible. For example, a lawyer in Seattle has 
raised the prospect of suing the city over its ordinance on the 
grounds that it can't regulate illegal activity.

"It probably just doesn't matter what you do. There's a possibility 
of a lawsuit by a dispensary or a patient or someone," Bock said.

A legal challenge might help clear up some of the questions over the 
state law, which Gov. Chris Gregoire stripped of provisions allowing 
dispensaries. She cited concerns that state employees could face 
federal prosecution for coordinating a registry program.

Seattle has taken the most permissive stance so far, passing an 
ordinance that treats a medical marijuana operation much like any 
other business.

The ordinance allows dispensaries -- a sort of pharmacy dedicated to 
selling marijuana to individual patients -- to argue they can 
continue operating, even though that portion of the law was rejected 
by Gregoire.

The other two leading sources of medical marijuana are commonly known 
as cooperatives and collective gardens. In a cooperative, patient 
growers provide marijuana to other patients, Grimmer said. The 
collective garden is run by patients or authorized providers. The 
benefit of both is that they make growing marijuana cheaper than 
buying it off the street, he said.

But conflict remains between state and federal law, which bans 
marijuana as a controlled substance. Federal prosecutors have warned 
that they will prosecute where appropriate -- when operations appear 
to be commercial, for example -- although they maintain they are not 
focusing limited resources on the average medical user.

Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin, who serves on the board of a task 
force that investigates many of the larger marijuana cases across the 
county, says he believes there's been a slight uptick in the number 
of investigations involving medical marijuana cards.

Internet postings suggest that several dispensaries have been active 
in Yakima County. A Yakima man who said he was running a collective 
garden was acquitted of criminal charges earlier this year.

Tricia Rogers, a Moxee woman and medical marijuana grower who spoke 
in favor of a collective-garden ordinance before the Yakima City 
Council, estimates that several thousand people in Yakima County are 
medical marijuana users.

Rogers believes the federal government needs to step back. "The feds 
are getting too big for their britches is what's happening," she said.

Rogers and Grimmer say they want to work within the law to eliminate 
the need for patients to seek marijuana on the black market.

Grimmer said residents in Ellensburg don't have a steady local 
source. In order to stay legal, they travel to marijuana cooperatives 
in Seattle or Tacoma. An ounce of marijuana costs between $200 and 
$300 at the cooperatives, compared with up to $400 on the street, Grimmer said.

Collective gardens could help make medical marijuana more affordable 
to patients, Grimmer said. Small-scale gardens can produce an ounce 
of marijuana for about $40, he said. Gardens also reduce the need for 
a single producer to invest several thousands of dollars in indoor 
growing equipment.

He also notes that cities stand to gain revenue from permits and 
inspection fees.

"There is a lot of financial windfall that can come from this," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom