The Port Orchard City Council ruled out medical marijuana dispensaries and community medical marijuana gardens at Tuesday night’s city council meetings.
Council members directed staff to change city business licensing code to define dispensaries and collective gardens as businesses and then not issue them business licenses, which have become unavailable for businesses that violate local, state or federal laws.
The decision comes after a year-long moratorium banning collective gardens and dispensaries in city limits, and follows a June 17 city council move to adopt the business licensing changes.
The council voted 4-to-1 to outlaw collective gardens and dispensaries, with council member Fred Chang the dissenting vote. Council members John Clauson and Rob Putaansuu were absent from the meeting.
Before the vote, the city council took public testimony. A handful of Port Orchard residents as well as people from other cities spoke both for and against allowing gardens and dispensaries within city limits.
Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle-based attorney specializing in medical marijuana, urged council members to allow the two city moratoriums on dispensaries and gardens to expire and not pass any further ordinances. Cities the size of Port Orchard were put in a difficult spot because of convoluted — and sometimes contradictory — state and federal laws regarding medical marijuana, he said before encouraging leaders to wait for further legal clarification.
“The best thing to do is nothing,” Hiatt said. “Let the stuff expire. Don’t pass any of this because you are buying yourself trouble.”
Hiatt argued that the city couldn’t legally regulate collective gardens. Collective gardens, he said, were considered in Washington to be an “affirmative defense,” an illegal activity that is justified and therefore allowed. An example of an “affirmative defense” is self defense, Hiatt said.
Hiatt said Port Orchard doesn’t have the power to regulate an “affirmative defense” since it is allowed under Washington law.
“These people don’t have the power to do what they think they are getting ready to do,” Hiatt said of the city council.
Two Port Orchard residents spoke in favor of outlawing collective gardens in Port Orchard. Joe Michael brought in two Little Nickel classified newspapers, which is produced by Sound Publishing. He pointed to the cover of the papers which had 15 adds each for medical marijuana collective gardens. He said it was a “joke” that people were using marijuana under the guise of medicine.
“The point is there are, when you check with medical advisors, a number of painkillers that help pain,” he said.
Mary Felts of Port Orchard also advocated outlawing collective gardens. She said the city should remain in line with federal law, which prohibits any form of marijuana use.
“It’s not good for the city, not good for federal law,” she said.
Debra Hansen, a terminal cancer patient, spoke of needing 240 milligrams of morphine each day before her doctor suggested she use marijuana for relief. She said she couldn’t understand why the city wouldn’t allow collective gardens and help her with easy access to the medicine she needed.
“The marijuana helps ease the pain and to take it away from people is a crime,” Hansen said.
After a 10 minute executive session called by the city’s attorney Gregory Jacoby, city council members returned to vote.
City council member Jerry Childs said while changing the city ordinance to not allow collective gardens and dispensaries wasn’t a perfect solution, it allowed the city to be poised for quick action if the state and federal governments clarified the laws.
“A lot of people count on medical marijuana to make life livable,” Childs said. “This is a step to put us further down the road should the state and federal government get their act together.”
Council member Jim Colebank said taking a step to end the moratoriums that had been in place for a year was needed. He thought a change to the businesses licensing code would allow for the greatest flexibility in the future.
“This is a small step,” Colebank said. “At least we are taking a step. If it turns out to be the wrong one, I’m sure we can correct.”