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Medical marijuana issue still in limbo

With little discussion or public input, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months.

Each moratorium has now been in effect for a year. When a six-month extension was approved in August, it was with the intention to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, city attorney Gregory Jacoby said there’s been “a lot of progress” toward that goal in the past six months, but more time is needed, partly because pending state legislation could help clarify the regulation of medical marijuana.

“I do expect you will see a proposal in this next six-month period for your consideration,” Jacoby said.

State law explicitly allows collective gardens, which may be set up by patients who are approved for medicinal marijuana use to grow their own supply of cannabis.

A bill currently under consideration in the state Senate, Jacoby said, “has some standards relating to collective gardens, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty regarding dispensaries.”

Federal law still considers marijuana a controlled substance and makes no exception for medicinal use. Washington and several other states have approved the use of medical marijuana, but Jacoby noted there were federal raids in the Puget Sound area late last year on numerous medical pot dispensaries, although those operations allegedly were fronts for criminal activity.

Only one person, medical marijuana activist Jared Alloway from Federal Way, spoke during the public hearing on medical marijuana at Tuesday’s council meeting. He asked why the process of developing regulations for collective gardens was taking so long and required another six-month moratorium.

“Just tell your city cops to stop arresting patients and their providers and you’ll probably be OK,” he told the council.

Councilman Fred Chang was the only one to vote no on the moratorium extensions, as he was in August. He asked if an extension of six months was necessary, and city planning director James Weaver told him the council could lift the moratorium at any time if regulations are developed and enacted in less than six months.

Chang noted there has been a medical marijuana dispensary operating on Mile Hill Drive just outside city limits, and said he recently called the owner to confirm the business was still operating.

“So it appears that even though we do have this moratorium for within city limits, and we may even renew it for another six months, it is comforting for me,” he said, “to know that there are people who can just go right outside our limits and get the medication they need.”

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