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Marijuana dispensaries stay on hold
Port Orchard’s city council on Tuesday adopted an emergency moratorium on applications for building and land-use permits for marijuana businesses and dispensaries in the city.
“This is to maintain the status quo while we look at alternatives,” said Greg Jacoby, the city’s attorney. “This gives you options as we see what develops in Olympia and elsewhere.”
While use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in Washington, state laws about the legality of facilities from which it would be distributed have been interpreted differently by different cities.
“It says that, if you are going to have a dispensary, you can provide marijuana to one person at a time,” said Jacoby at a work-study session on Feb. 15.
Different municipalities have interpreted the phrase “one person at a time” to mean different things.
But state lawmakers are considering a law to legalize the dispensaries under certain conditions.
“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.”
The moratorium would buy a little extra time for Port Orchard’s city council to decide how to handle the issue, assuming the bill passes in Olympia.
“If Olympia passes a bill to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries,” Jacoby said, “we would like to have addressed some zoning issues.”
That way, the council can ensure dispensaries are “not next door to a school or city hall, but in an area that’s appropriate,” Jacoby said.
“Other cities are definitely watching how we will handle this,” said Port Orchard Police Chief Alan Townsend.
Mari Meds, a marijuana dispensary in Belfair, has been operating for about three months.
Robert Wood and Lori Kent, who have worked together to run the dispensary, spoke to the city council at the Feb. 15 work-study session, and said they’re providing a community service.
“I believe something like this would be good in Port Orchard,” Wood said. “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 former substance abuse counselor, agreed.
“It’s not just a smoking party with a big fat joint and a bong anymore,” she said.
John Clauson, on Feb. 22, urged the City of Port Orchard’s staff to research the issue during the moratorium.
“I don’t want to be six months down the road and then say, ‘Oh gee, we need to do something with this zoning ordinance,’” he said.
But the city’s staff has already started looking at how other cities have handled the issue, said James Weaver, Port Orchard’s development director.
“Staff’s already researching what’s happening in other communities throughout Washington state,” he said. “We’re looking for examples to use as a basis.”
“If we have a proposal,” he said, “we’ll discuss it in work-study and bring it before the council as with all of our zoning changes.”