Kent City Council votes 4-3 to pass new moratorium on medical marijuana operations

The first couple of votes for the 2012 Kent City Council Tuesday night turned into a contentious, legal maze over medical marijuana – welcome to the council.

Charles Lambert behind the counter at the Evergreen Association of Community Garden July 26 in Kent where he distributes medical marijuana to patients.

Charles Lambert behind the counter at the Evergreen Association of Community Garden July 26 in Kent where he distributes medical marijuana to patients.

The first couple of votes for the 2012 Kent City Council Tuesday night turned into a contentious, legal maze over medical marijuana – welcome to the council.

With new members Dana Ralph and Bill Boyce taking their positions on the dais, the council again considered zoning regulation for medical marijuana collective gardens and extending the moratorium on all medical marijuana operations.

The zoning measure failed 4-3 with Boyce, Ralph, Les Thomas and Deborah Ranniger voting no. Elizabeth Albertson, Jamie Perry and Council President Dennis Higgins voted in favor of zoning ordinance for medical marijuana collective gardens.

An emergency ordinance was considered that would have extended the current moratorium for six months without a gap when the previous six-month moratorium lapsed Thursday, Jan. 5.

The emergency measure needed a five-vote super majority, which failed with Albertson, Perry and Higgins voting no.

The council finally decided on a 4-3 vote to put a new six-month moratorium in place that takes effect five days after it is published by the city. It is expected there will be a gap of about one week between the new measure taking effect and the lapsing of the previous moratorium.

Boyce, Ralph, Thomas and Ranniger voted for the new moratorium.

The zoning measure also failed to pass when the previous council considered it Dec. 12. The zoning regulation had passed out of the Economic and Community Development Committee on a 2-1 vote with Perry and Albertson voting yes and Ranniger no.

The battle lines over the issue that came to the surface in December were much the same Tuesday.

“I have kids and I don't recommend to them they go out and smoke marijuana,” Higgins said. “I do think we have an obligation, however, as a city of 118,000 people, to the people that live in our city that legitimately need access to medical marijuana…. I think we need to behave like a big city and we need to establish rules around this.”

On the other side of the aisle, Thomas disagreed.

“Until the federal government changes this to a legal substance, I still consider this an illegal substance,” Thomas said.

Thomas drew a parallel stating “Prostitution is illegal. We all know that. So are we going to zone it up on Highway 99 as a zone that can allow that to happen? I don't think so. Until marijuana is made a legal drug we shouldn't zone something that is illegal.”

Albertson supported the zoning and stated, “When I raised my right hand I vowed to do what was right for the citizens of the community and what they are asking me to do. What they have asked me to do is create an access point for those people who under state law have a letter from their doctor that states they have a medical condition that allows them to use medical cannabis for the treatment of that condition.”

Perry said she wanted to “dispel the idea we are suddenly trying to make legal something that is illegal. That's not what we are doing and this is not akin to prostitution. The state has not said prostitution is legal. They have said collective gardens are. We have to deal with that reality.”

Ralph said, “I believe the city is not in a position or should not take positions to zone anything that is illegal under federal law. Once federal law is clarified and makes this substance legal, at that point I believe we have a responsibility to zone for it…. At this point in time it is against the law and I stood up there tonight and raised my right hand and promised to uphold the constitution of the state and the laws of the federal government.”

During the discussion of the moratorium, Albertson and Perry both stated they would not support another moratorium if there was no direction from the council members on the zoning ordinance.

The temperature of the discussion raised considerably as Albertson said if the members were voting against the zoning because of the federal law the members were essentially “banning it (medical marijuana) totally,” and that was a “cop out.”

She continued stating, “I would be embarrassed to stand between people and their doctor's recommendation that they use medical cannabis for their illness. This to me is an issue of humanity and to do anything less is heartless.”

Ralph countered stating, “I respectfully have to take exception to the fact that this makes me heartless. I am not standing between anyone and their medicine that they and their doctor choose them to have. I just do not believe the city is in a position to zone for something that is against the law.”

Ralph said she would support the extenuation of the moratorium to give the current council time to consider the issue.

One of the issues outlined by the staff was without a moratorium or zoning in place, collective gardens could open in most areas of the city.

Philip Dawdy, who worked with the Washington Cannabis Association during the 2011 legislative session, said he was concerned about the gap between the new moratorium taking effect and the end of the measure passed in July.

“It is entirely possible someone could open (a medical marijuana facility),” Dawdy said. “I am concerned about the gap. You never can tell what will happen. We want this to be easy, smooth and orderly, not random and disorderly.”

Dawdy said legislation on medical marijuana is being drawn up in Olympia that will likely be considered during the 2012 session.

A bill was passed during the 2011 session, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed 36 of 58 sections, leaving a confusing legal landscape for cities to navigate.

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