OTHELLO - Othello plans to continue delaying making rules for community medical marijuana gardens for at least six more months.
The decision comes after the planning commission recommended the city not allow the gardens in the city. The council requested the commission examine the issue in July.
The issue started roughly two years ago when Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed portions of a bill, but left in a section allowing groups of medical marijuana patients to grow the plant in a community garden. The law allows up to 10 qualifying patients to grow as many as 45 marijuana plants in a shared garden. Each patient is allowed to grow as many as 15 plants each.
State law allows cities to delay implementing the law while officials develop codes, City Planner Darryl Piercy said. The law's intent is to provide time for cities to react to certain elements of the law.
"The intent of that legislation, the moratorium, is really to be for a brief period of time. The law allows for up to six months," Piercy said. "It does allow for the extension of that moratorium to go on should the need arise."
A number of issues are impacting implementing new codes, Piercy said. One was the passage of Initiative 502, legalizing recreational use of marijuana. The second is a lawsuit appealing the City of Kent's ban on community medical marijuana gardens.
The initiative specifically states it doesn't affect the medical marijuana laws, but Piercy said cities are finding it isn't quite the case.
"It's possible we may get new information based on this court case that would change the thinking, or at least the relationship, between medical marijuana gardens and recreational use of marijuana," he said.
Othello's planning commission did continue examining the issue even with the unanswered questions, Piercy said. The commission developed four options: continue delaying setting up codes, allow the gardens, allow uses which comply with state and federal laws, and banning the gardens.
"In discussing all of those options, the planning commission looked at the pros and cons, looked at the potential risk to the city in terms of litigation and after giving all those items consideration ... the planning commission moved forward with the recommendation, voting unanimously, to prohibit medical marijuana gardens within the City of Othello," he said.
The commission realized the recommendation was the most likely to allow people to sue the city, he said.
"They recognized that risk, but also felt that was the right thing to do for the City of Othello," Piercy said.
Since the commission finalized its recommendation, the initiative passed and the lawsuit in Kent has progressed, Piercy said. City Attorney Katherine Kenison recommended waiting to see the outcome of the initiative and the lawsuit.
"It may shed new light and new ability on the city to either prohibit medical marijuana gardens if they chose, or the courts may rule that the cities must allow for (the gardens,)" he said.
Piercy explained the passage of another six-month delay in establishing codes does push the limits of the law's intent, but since questions about the law remain it isn't as concerning as other issues.
"It appears to be a very safe route for the city to take, pending the outcome of issues of medical marijuana gardens in relation to recreational use of marijuana," he said.
Kenison explained the plaintiffs in the Kent lawsuit asked the state Supreme Court to review the case. If the court accepts the case, arguments are expected in the summer and a decision before the end of the year.
Kenison said the initiative's passage made deciding what to do with medical marijuana gardens a moving target.
"I've not been concerned, as I normally would be, about making a recommendation to extend your moratorium," she said. "I don't see any point in wasting our resources, as scarce as they are, in trying to tackle an issue that we don't know what the end will look like."
Kenison suggested establishing a one-year moratorium, saying the law allows it if the city established a plan.
Councilmember Ken Caylor agreed with continuing the delays, saying the state and federal governments need to make a decision about marijuana.
"I think before any city steps out on a limb on their own, they need to have state and federal (officials) get together and identify what's wrong if they haven't yet."