A garden of a different odor may be coming to a home near you. On August 23, the Pullman City Council took up the medical marijuana debate. The council did not do this out of any desire, but a necessity to deal with a new state law before the issue gets out of hand.
Without a moratorium, collective marijuana gardens will remain legal. This will open Pullman up to the full wrath of the Drug Enforcement Agency and lawyers from multiple angles while leaving few means to ensure that people receiving marijuana actually need the drug.
The law in question is Senate Bill 5073, which legalizes collective marijuana gardening at the state level. Collective gardens allow ten people with doctor’s prescriptions for marijuana to band together to take care of a plot of up to 45 marijuana plants. These plants would provide users a supply of marijuana in 15-day rotating shifts.
This would all be fully legal.
Well, not exactly. The U.S. Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Raich directly and conclusively ruled the federal government has the right to ban marijuana, medical or otherwise. Growing these gardens, or even just doing your job by allowing them, remains a prime way to have the DEA show up at your doorstep.
Because of these fears, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed many important parts of the bill about how these gardens would be regulated.
The rest of the bill allowing gardens remains, leaving less than desirable circumstances for many cities.
As for Pullman itself, the mood at the city council meeting seemed pretty clear. Most councilors desired to wash their hands from the debate in the only way they knew how, a moratorium.
A moratorium would make collective gardens illegal in the eyes of state and local law enforcement in the city of Pullman for one year, with the provision of a six month extension after the initial year.
Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins took an unsurprisingly strong stance against marijuana. Jenkins mentioned a number of cases where holders of marijuana cards admitted that the reason they acquired the card was to smoke pot.
Jenkins should have focused on third party misuse. A plot of marijuana plants is just asking to be taken advantage of by the wrong people. By attacking card holders, even if many do obtain cards just to smoke, Jenkins opens the moratorium up for counterattack.
The moratorium process allows a public comments period. In this case, the date would be set for early October. There will be unhappy attendees, and someone with a legitimate illness may ask the council why they cannot have a drug they need.
During this process, the council needs to focus on the impacts on the whole citizenry. Councilors mentioned a few solid points at the meeting that can hold water during the later debate. Councilors questioned whether they could retain grants from the federal government for a number of different items. Legalizing marijuana may cause the government to revoke these grants, harming the entire community, whereas marijuana just benefits a few members.
Councilors also brought up concerns that by enforcing state law, police and city workers could be open to federal criminal charges. A letter from the U.S. attorney’s office to Gov. Gregoire indicated in the affirmative and led to a veto of the registry provision.
A whole host of liability concerns arise for the city and users who are told, incorrectly, that what they are doing is legal. Court cases cost the entire community. If the gardens are registered, the likelihood of having citizens charged with a federal crime is high. Leaving the gardens unregistered just asks for abuse from users and dealers growing the drug for non-medicinal purposes.
It makes sense for a moratorium. Gonzales v. Raich entombs marijuana as a federal issue that should be dealt with at the federal level. Pullman should not suffer from an unwinnable debate at the wrong level of government. So pass the moratorium, and hope that sometime in the next year, the federal and state governments develop a unified approach regarding medical marijuana. Until then, this bill is a legal mess worth avoiding.