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Port Orchard marijuana dispensaries on hold for now

Marijuana on sale at Meri Meds - Kaitlin Strohschein/Staff Photo
Marijuana on sale at Meri Meds
— image credit: Kaitlin Strohschein/Staff Photo

Port Orchard’s city council has requested a six-month moratorium on marijuana dispensaries in the city, the legality of which is ambiguous under current state law.

Some cities have allowed the dispensaries. Others have rejected them.

Robert Wood and Lori Kent, who have who have run a medical marijuana dispensary in Belfair for three months, claim they’re helping people and believe the city should welcome them.

“It’s a straight-up dispensary,” said Wood. “It’s not a Bob Marley den of iniquity. You come in. You get your medicine and you leave.”

Wood said medical marijuana is in high demand.

“We’re approaching 1,000 patients,” he said. “Eighty-three percent of our patients are age 45 and up, and 63 percent are women.”

Nonetheless, Washington state’s current laws are sufficiently unclear about the legality of such dispensaries that some cities have banned them, while others have not.

“It says that, if you are going to have a dispensary, you can provide marijuana to one person at a time,” said Greg Jacoby, Port Orhard’s city attorney.

But different cities have determined the phrase “one person at a time” differently.

State lawmakers are considering a bill to clarify the issue.

“The Senate bill would create a licensing system for people that produce process and dispense marijuana,” said Jacoby. “It would allow dispensaries, but they would have to be nonprofit, and there would be a whole registration process with the Department of Health.

“It seems to have support from officials in both Seattle and Tacoma,” he said. “I have no idea if it’s likely to pass.”

Russ Hauge, the Kitsap County prosecuting attorney, and Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend have both opposed the dispensaries, locally.

“It is our belief that, right now, it is illegal to run such an operation,” Townsend said.

Townsend and Jacoby encouraged the city council to prepare for the dispensaries.

They encouraged the city council to zone them to appropriate locations.

“Do you want them downtown?” Townsend asked. “Because, if the law changes, they can be anywhere.”

They also raised a number of legal questions that, they said, the city council should answer sooner rather than later.

“I think that we should issue a moratorium so we have time to decide whether it’s in the best interest of the citizens to have,” said City Councilman Jerry Childs. “It will also give us time to see what the legislature decides.”

Wood and Kent said, in an interview at their shop, Meri Meds in Bellfair, they would like to open a dispensary in Port Orchard.

“I believe something like this would be good in Port Orchard,” said Wood. “We can prove that it’s not the stigma, it’s the alternative.

“We’re compassionate,” he said. “We don’t want people to hurt.”

Kent, a retired substance abuse counselor, said the same.

“It’s not just a smoking party with a big fat joint and a bong anymore,” she said.

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