Council hears both sides on marijuana dispensary moratorium

Port Orchard’s city council could revoke or modify a six-month moratorium on “accepting or processing” key paperwork “relating to medical marijuana dispensaries” in the city.

And on Tuesday, several city residents, urged them to do just that.

“To avoid the subject and just put our head in the ground will just perpetuate a black market,” said Josh Zetzsche, who owned a local restaurant that served “hemp food.”

“Let’s regulate it,” he said. “Let’s allow it in the city. Collect the taxes for it.”

Allan Martin, Port Orchard’s city treasurer, said that he’s unsure if the city can actually collect taxes from the drug.

And Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola questioned the legality of the marijuana businesses.

“What you’re asking us to do is condone the distribution of a product in our city that violates federal law?” he asked.

“It is a violation of federal law, yes. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” said Kent Bratt, an attorney representing two local companies interested in getting marijuana-related businesses into Port Orchard.

Practically, though, that might not make much difference.

“We don’t have the authority to enforce federal law,” said Brian S. Smith, the deputy chief of police for Port Angeles, where a dispensary recently cropped up in the city’s shopping district.

Federal law still applies, he said, but Port Angeles police can’t take action on it.

“We cooperate with federal agents, but we don’t have authority,” he said. “We enforce Washington’s statutes and city ordinances.”

But the Port Angeles dispensary hasn’t, so far, had an obvious impact on crime in the city.

“We have yet to respond to a complaint from someone,” Smith said.

“I actually had a conversation with the former mayor of Port Angeles last week,” said Coppola. “She said that, as of yet, there haven’t been any real negative effects, but they hadn’t been open long enough to see what the long-term result is going to be.”

Port Orchard’s city council has approached the topic cautiously so far.

It enacted, on Feb. 22, an emergency six-month moratorium on the dispensaries to see if state lawmakers clarify their legality during the current legislative session.

“I think everyone in the state of Washington is hoping that the Legislature will clarify what is intended,” City Attorney Greg Jacoby said, “because the current law is very unclear on the issue of dispensaries.”

If they decide that the dispensaries are legal, then the moratorium will give city planners time to zone the businesses to appropriate locations.

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