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Misguided 'nuisance' proposal ignores law

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By Philip Dawdy
Published:
Everett voters approved marijuana legalization by a healthy margin last month, but now it's December and the City Council is about to do something that will make all those voters quite unhappy. Council is set to enact a so-called "nuisance ordinance" that would so drastically limit where medical cannabis collective gardens might locate that it would create an effective ban on safe access for patients in the city. It would also likely ban any Everett marijuana retail locations for recreational users that the State Liquor Board might wish to license when it begins to issue licenses for those in about one year. Many thousands of Everett voters will find council's action a nuisance, but, rest assured, black market pot dealers will be thrilled.
This is no way for Everett to end the current moratorium against collective gardens, and adopting the ordinance would place the city at variance with state law. All of that in an environment in which President Barack Obama said that the federal government had "bigger fish to fry" than to go after Washington and Colorado's historic initiatives that made recreational use legal for adults.
My hunch is the president is even less concerned about medical cannabis.
I realize that Everett officials think their hands are tied by federal laws that schedule cannabis alongside heroin, and that if they allow access in the city, then they might put federal contracts in jeopardy. That logic doesn't fly any longer because not a single city in this state that has permitted medical cannabis collective gardens, which are allowed under state law, has lost a single dollar in federal funding of any kind. Not in Mukilteo or Shoreline or Issaquah or Seattle and certainly not anywhere in Colorado. That state has a far more aggressively regulated medical cannabis law than our current patchwork left after Gov. Christine Gregoire's espicially wrong partial veto of S. 5073, which would have legalized and regulated state-licensed dispensaries along the lines of Colorado's system. The feds have stayed hands-off with Colorado cities cooperating with state law, so there's no reason to think that would change if Everett does allow for collective gardens.
What's more, last week President Obama also said it was time to start a conversation about how to reconcile the conflict between federal and state laws on cannabis. Not exactly Drug Warrior talk.
When the collective gardens model became law in 2011, the City Council voted in a temporary moratorium. After that hearing, one City Councilmember told me, "Show us a model that works." I'm happy to let City Council know that there is a model out there that works -- collective gardens -- and it's been working in other Washington cities for 18 months. The city of Kent passed a ban on collective gardens earlier this year, but it was recently stayed by the Washington State Supreme Court while it reviews an appeal of the ban. That should give the City Council pause because its nuisance ordinance would fly in the face of state law and the intent of our state Legislature when it passed S. 5073 in 2011. The law does not allow for bans on collective gardens and it does not allow cities to make such tight zoning rules that no one can site a facility within its boundaries. I know because I helped the Legislature craft S. 5073, and its intent was not to create spotty access around the state. State law also does not allow cities to tinker with the definition of collective gardens, as the proposed ordinance does. It does allow for safe access for medical cannabis patients and it's time for the City Council to get in step with state law and stop harming the thousands of medical cannabis patients who live in Everett.
City Council members should reject the proposed nuisance ordinance and get to work on enacting local regulations that allow for access in Everett. Otherwise the city will likely face a lawsuit, one that it will eventually lose. Taxpayers deserve better than that.
Besides, I bet that, just like President Obama, the city of Everett has bigger fish to fry.

Philip Dawdy is political director of the Natural Medicine Alliance, a medical cannabis industry group. He's an award-winning journalist who was heavily involved in crafting Washington's current medical cannabis law in 2011.

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