EVERETT — Everett city leaders opted Tuesday to extend by six months a moratorium on collective medical marijuana gardens.
The decision came just after a city attorney suggested to city leaders that they could face federal prosecution if they crafted medical marijuana regulations.
The city is waiting for legal clarification on how to handle the conflicts between state and federal law, assistant city attorney Ramsey Ramerman told the council before the vote.
The federal government considers all possession and distribution of marijuana to be illegal.
Ramerman warned the council that allowing the gardens now could get city employees and elected leaders in trouble with the federal government by making them “accomplices to federal drug crimes.”
The city also needs more time to figure out how to effectively zone the gardens, he said.
A state law allowing cities to license, zone and impose health and safety requirements on collective medical marijuana gardens went into effect last July.
The state law doesn’t allow cities to ban the gardens, so some cities, including Everett, passed moratoriums. Everett’s new moratorium is now in effect until Jan. 20.
Councilwoman Gigi Burke said she’s not worried about federal prosecution. She supported extending the moratorium so city staff can do their due diligence.
“My priority is the safety of the citizens,” she said after the meeting Tuesday. “We want to make sure we are doing our research prior to implementing a plan so we know what to expect.”
The lone person to speak on the moratorium, Ian Voje of Everett, urged the council to consider the ill people who couldn’t grow their own medical marijuana. He added that he knew of no elected official or state worker who had been pursued by the federal government on this issue.
“It seems unlikely to happen in our city,” he said.
Clark County Commissioners in southwest Washington requested an opinion from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in December on potential liability of regulating the collective gardens.
Clark County received a frank response the next month from the U.S. Department of Justice, warning that “anyone who knowingly carries out the marijuana activities” specified in the state’s medical marijuana law is subject to criminal prosecution and “that same conclusion would apply with equal force to the proposed activities of the Board of Clark County Commissioners and Clark County employees.”
The Mukilteo City Council also initially passed a moratorium but eventually decided to approve rules for the collective gardens in May.
The Mukilteo ordinance allows the gardens in areas zoned for light industrial use. They may not be within 1,000 feet of each other or a school, park, day care, community center or youth-orientated facility such as a YMCA.
Under state law, up to 10 patients can create a collective garden and harvest up to 45 plants and 4.5 pounds of usable cannabis.
Mukilteo has two gardens, but both don’t conform to those standards since they were in place before the city passed a moratorium, said Mukilteo senior planner Glen Pickus.
The city requires an initial $333 “safety license” that is renewable annually at a cost of $185 each subsequent year.
Pickus said Mukilteo city staff spent months researching the issue.
“We approached this strictly as a zoning issue,” he said. “We don’t investigate if these gardens are operating according to state regulations. We are staying out of that. It’s strictly land use to us.”
The city ultimately decided it was unlikely the federal government would come after the city.
“We discussed it with our attorney,” Pickus said. “Obviously, we decided that wasn’t a major concern.”
All five of the council members at the meeting voted for the moratorium: Ron Gipson, Jeff Moore, Shannon Affholter, Arlan Hatloe and Gigi Burke. Council members Brenda Stonecipher and Paul Roberts weren’t present.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or email@example.com