Pubdate: Mon, 03 Dec 2012
Source: Columbian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Columbian Publishing Co.
Author: Stephanie Rice


Groups of Patients Can Grow Pot, Within Limits

Collective medical marijuana gardens will be allowed in certain city 
zones come January, as the Vancouver City Council voted 6-1 on Monday 
to approve them.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt acknowledged that the ordinance isn't 
going to please everyone, as people who testified Monday said the 
zoning rules were too restrictive.

"We can take that up and evaluate it over the next year," Leavitt 
said. "We always have the option to amend our ordinances."

While more than two dozen people showed up at City Hall, only six 
testified. Five spoke in favor of the ordinance and one person -- who 
works for the Clark County Sheriff's Office -- remained neutral.

Sgt. Shane Gardner, speaking as a neighborhood association leader, 
said he understands that the city councilors were in a difficult spot 
as they are caught between conflicting state and federal laws. He 
said he appreciated the code restrictions, such as the fact that 
gardens must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, community centers, 
public parks, licensed day care facilities and other collective gardens.

James Barber, who has sued the city over the extended moratorium on 
collective gardens, said medical marijuana shouldn't be treated 
differently from other prescription drugs.

"Do you want to get into people's medicine cabinets?" Barber asked.

Vancouver resident Matt Wood said he feels people who grow medical 
marijuana for terminally ill patients get lumped in with people who 
abuse the system.

Under the new law, collective gardens will be only in areas zoned 
either light industrial or heavy industrial.

Such zones include the Port of Vancouver, Columbia Business Center 
and Columbia Tech Center business park.

The spaces at the port are too large and expensive for patients to 
rent, Wood said. He would like the city to add more locations. "It is 
not perfect, but it is a start," Wood said of the ordinance.

Mike Sutherland, director of Medi Brothers, told the council he 
provides medical marijuana to qualifying patients.

Medical marijuana was decriminalized in Washington in 1989, but there 
are too many restrictions, he said. "Our number one goal is safe 
access for patients."

It wasn't until 2011 that state regulations were established for 
collective gardens, and Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed several sections 
of the bill. She left it for local jurisdictions to decide whether to 
set zoning restrictions.

The city first enacted a six-month moratorium on collective gardens 
in July 2011.

Had the council done nothing on Monday, the moratorium would have 
expired at the end of the year and the gardens would have been 
allowed in every zone.

Under the city ordinance, operators do not need to obtain a business 
permit from the city, but they do need to notify the city and give 
the city a contact name and number.

Up to 10 patients can share a collective garden with no more than 45 plants.

Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken said a copy of 
each patient's medical documentation must be kept on the premises. A 
patient can belong to only one garden at a time, and has to be a 
member for 30 days before receiving any marijuana. The gardens will 
have to be inside a building secured with deadbolt locks, and no 
signs or symbols advertising the garden will be allowed.

Also, no on-site sales, including sales of drug paraphernalia, will 
be permitted.

Eiken said the law will take effect Jan. 2.

Councilor Bill Turlay voted against the ordinance, as he said in an 
earlier meeting he would not support something that's in violation of 
federal law.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart initially said Monday that the federal 
government needs to reassess medical marijuana and possibly 
reclassify it. This shouldn't be a fight at the local level, she 
said. Councilor Larry Smith followed Stewart's remarks by saying he 
lives in the real world, where federal officials can't even balance a 
budget. We can't wait for the feds to act, Smith said.

Councilors Jack Burkman and Jeanne Harris said they will side with 
state law over federal law, particularly since voters declassified 
medical marijuana years ago and in November a majority of voters 
supported Initiative 502.

That law, which takes effect Thursday, allows adults 21 and older to 
possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana.

After hearing from the other councilors, Stewart changed her mind and 
voted for the ordinance.

Councilor Bart Hansen and Leavitt also voted yes.

Last week, the county commissioners, who have authority over 
unincorporated areas, indicated they will ban the gardens.

The county's moratorium doesn't expire until the summer.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom