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Othello, Ephrata continue marijuana moratorium

State, federal governments at odds

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2012 9:00 am

OTHELLO - Othello and Ephrata continued moratoriums on adopting building codes for community marijuana gardens.

The cities adopted the initial six month moratoriums following a state bill which passed last year allowing up to 10 qualifying patients to grow as many as 45 marijuana plants in a shared garden. Each patient is allowed to grow up to 15 plants each.

Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed large portions of the bill out of concern it would allow the federal government to prosecute state employees.

While the cities expected the bill to be changed during the present legislative session, Othello City Attorney Katherine Kenison said it didn't seem like it would happen this year.

"To further complicate things, Initiative 502 has now been submitted for the ballot this fall to a vote of the people, which would authorize not only medicinal use but recreational use of marijuana, which will add yet another layer of complexity to this issue," she said.

Kenison pointed out the federal government holds any federal law preempts state law on the issue of marijuana.

"Gov. Gregoire, along with several other state governors, has submitted a request to Congress to reclassify marijuana from a class A narcotic to a class B narcotic, which would then allow it to be prescribed," she said. "I'm not sure if that's going to happen or where that is right now."

The US Department of Justice's opinion is any people involved in a state, county or city agency  handling or regulating marijuana is subject to federal prosecution, Kenison said. Regulating includes issuing business licenses for a medical marijuana operation.

"So this has become more than simply saying, 'We want more time to study the issue.' This has become an issue of personal liability for our employees if we were to adopt regulations to allow this medical marijuana garden in our community," she said. "We don't want to subject our employees to that kind of liability."

Kenison said it's likely the cities will need to extend the moratorium again in six months until after the November election.

"We are allowed to adopt six-month moratoriums as long as we hold a public hearing," she said. "We would hope to have some answers from the government soon."

Othello Councilmember Ken Caylor said the Legislature has another bill dealing with the issue.

"Most of what's contained in that bill is what's contained in the initiative as well," Kenison said. "There seems to be some parallel thoughts on the direction they would like to go."

She added the initiative has a strong possibility of passing, but she doesn't hold out much hope for the present bill in the legislature.

Ephrata plans to hold a public hearing on the moratorium during their next meeting on March 7, at 7 p.m. at city council chambers, located at 121 Alder Street SW.

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