Maple Valley City Council moves to ban collective gardens

While the dispute over the exact business nature of Green Society Group continues, the city of Maple Valley is considering whether to prohibit collective gardens.

At the City Council’s May 7 meeting several city officials addressed the council advising it to prohibit collective gardens in order to protect Maple Valley legally before the year-long moratorium expires.

Community Development Director Ty Peterson recommended that the sooner such an ordinance is passed the better.

“It was meant to function as a system that would be regulated through the Department of Agriculture,” he said. “All of that got vetoed. So nothing has changed. That’s the difficult part here.”

Peterson also said the dilemma isn’t over the morality of medical marijuana, but, the state’s contradiction with federal law.

“This is a land use discussion,” he said. “It’s not a medical discussion. It’s just this new category called collective gardens that we unfortunately don’t think there’s a particularly beneficial and useful way to regulate, because it conflicts with federal law. I don’t personally want to be put in the position of potentially issuing approvals or permits that are unlawful under federal law. That’s the difficulty we’re at.”

In the May 7 meeting agenda packet, Peterson and Johnston wrote “Although several other states have adopted so-called ‘medical marijuana’ laws, attorneys representing the U.S. Department of Justice have made it very clear that the federal government considers marijuana to be an illegal drug, and that federal prosecution for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act is a possibility.”

The push for a ban has been hastened by the opening of Green Society Group in April 20 at Frontier Square. Although its owner, Chris Schoonover, has stated that his business is a management company, and not a collective garden, the possibility of more like-minded businesses popping up has left city official, such as City Manager David Johnston, unsettled.

“We find ourself in a fairly ambiguous situation,” Johnston said. “Risk insurer expects us to follow all laws. If it’s illegal, we find it hard to believe we could allow it. There’s an expectation of our risk carrier, that we follow federal law. It’s still a real issue here.”

Christy Todd, the city’s attorney, explained during the May 7 meeting that only collective gardens are allowed under state law, as the dispensaries were line item vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

According to the state law, cities are allowed to zone for collective gardens, but are not legally required to do so.

In a telephone interview Johnston stated further that the city really does not have a choice but to comply with federal law or risk potential liabilities.

“My main concern is we’re operating legally at all levels of government, federal, state and local,” he said. “As long as there is this concept called preemption…I can’t put my staff and the city in legal jeopardy for violating federal law. We’re not focusing in the compassion or validity of medical marijuana. It’s the same rationale that Gov. Gregoire used in her line item veto. We have the same concerns.”

Federal preemption refers to the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which invalidates any state law which contradicts a federal law.

“We’re all in a state of confusion, but we know we have to do something,” said Johnston in a prior interview. “I think we hope that the ambiguity between state and federal law will be satisfied soon. We need that help. Because this is where the activities are happening. It’s on our main street. We’d like to have concrete legal direction where there is little if any ambiguity.”

According to the meeting agenda packet, the city ban would not affect an individual’s ability to cultivate cannabis for individual medical use, nor would it  regulate through its zoning code individual cultivation of medical marijuana.

The move to prohibit collective gardens received vocal support from most of the council.

“I’m in support of a ban,” Mayor Bill Allison said. “If that (collective gardens) is permitted, we can come back to that and we do this again.”

Council member Erin Weaver agreed, stating that until the conflict between the state and federal law is resolved the city should protect itself.

“We’re putting not only the city at risk, we’re putting our own citizens at risk if we’re going to push it off and wait any longer,” she said. “I don’t think this is going to get resolved in Maple Valley. It’s going to get resolved at a federal level.”

Deputy Mayor Victoria Laise-Jonas stated that “from risk management perspective it (allowing collective gardens) puts us and city employees at risk.”

Council members Layne Barnes and Linda Johnson stated they wished to extend the moratorium temporarily in order for the city staff to have more time to write the code.

“It shouldn’t take that much time,” Johnson said. “I want the planning commission focused.”

Johnston, however, advised against it.

“Unfortunately the reality is if you continue to delay this action there may be opportunity for other like businesses to set up shop in our city and again we’ll have to use whatever mechanisms we have in our arsenal that have to be addressed before we get to the question ‘Does this business violate our moratorium?’ I’m just letting you know one of the reasons we are advocating that you seriously consider a ban is we’re having an interesting process with the first one (Green Society Group). It’s not going to go away if others want to come in.”

Ultimately, the council voted to allow city staff to write the code.

According to the May 7 meeting packet, “No Washington case (court) has ruled yet on whether law preempts Washington’s Medical Cannabis law.”


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