Proposed collective garden ban, business license garner little support from public | Maple Valley City Council
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
June 19, 2012 · 10:07 AM
A pair of proposed ordinances up for consideration by the Maple Valley City Council didn't have much public support at the June 11 meeting.
More than a dozen people spoke during the public comment period about both the proposed business license and the ban on collective gardens. No one spoke in favor of the business license, and only one person, planning commission vice chairman Patrick Jaybush, spoke in favor of a collective garden ban.
In a split vote of 4-3, the Planning Commission voted to not recommend the proposed ordinance to ban collective gardens at its June 6 meeting. Jaybush, who was one of the three who dissented, said there wasn't enough awareness of the meeting to allow property owners who might be impacted by the ordinance to address the issue.
"We were kind of operating in a vacuum in this situation," he said. "Only supporters really showed up. We didn’t have a lot of property owners showing up."
This was challenged by the Kym Schodren, director of the Greener Business Bureau, who said the lack of support for the ban is an indication of how Maple Valley residents feel.
"There's an opportunity for opposition always because this was posted publicly," she said. "I don't think there was an opposition there because there isn’t an opposition."
The Planning Commission's decision was referenced by opponents of the ban such as Jay Berneberg, attorney for Green Society Group owner Chris Schoonover.
"Ultimately I want to urge you to follow the recommendations of your planning commission," he said. "And let’s be clear about something right out of the chute. Medical grade cannabis is to pot what pharmaceutical cocaine is to crack. It's not the same thing. You wouldn't accuse Bartell and Walgreens of selling crack…it’s a serious medicine for seriously ill people."
Others opponents of the ban, such as John Worthington, said the city doesn't have the authority to ban collective gardens.
"I’m just here to try to educate you," he said. "There’s been all kinds of challenge for local control. Each of them have lost. It’s just not there for you. The only option is to go to Olympia and try to hash out that control."
The city was also threatened with a lawsuit by Steve Sarich — who works for an organization which provides information to medical marijuana patients called CannaCare — who said he would sue the city if they passed a ban.
"You are not allowed to preempt state law," he said. "You are only allowed to do what limited statues the state law allows…we intend to sue every city that insist on violating state law. Your city has absolutely no right to pass a moratorium. If you don’t believe we’re serious, go ahead and pass the ban. I promise you that."
The council ultimately voted to not extend the moratorium on collective gardens, which is set to expire in July. A public hearing on the ban is scheduled for the June 25 meeting.
The proposed business license ordinance also received flack during the public hearing from business owners and realtors.
"I think this is a horrible time to make this decision," said Karen Crowe, who owns a business EnviroSpect, based in Maple Valley. "Year after year the business license discussion has come up. Maple Valley is talking about how they want to be business friendly. This is not the way to do it."
Sean Henderson, who works at Windermere, said he shouldn't need another license to operate in the city. Addressing the issue of public safety, he facetiously proposed that the city might as well have police officers stop everybody who enters the city, take a picture of them and charge them 25 cents.
"It would absolutely deter anybody from coming in and wanting to do anything bad," Henderson said. "I think that my friends, it's a proposal we should wrap our arms around. Quite frankly it makes as much sense as charging me another $50."
Other criticisms of the business license included how it would affect real estate agents and its potential for abuse.
Robert Castagna said that the wording for the ordinance would allow the city to strip a business owner of his license for any municipal code violations, including a traffic ticket.
"I think this ordinance really overreaches," he said. "I don’t think it’s good for the community. I can see a slippery slope where we have a full time employee where they’re a business license filer."
FATE OF ORDINANCES STILL UNCERTAIN
The lopsided feedback did not come as a surprise for several council members, including Mayor Bill Allison.
"I was not expecting any more support for the business license," he said. "The people who don't mind having it generally don't come and say 'we're for it.'"
Despite this, Allison said he is still supports a business license, which he said the city has to have as long as they license peddlers and transient salesmen in order to avoid a possible lawsuit.
"We need to protect ourselves from being vulnerable to a suit if they come after us and say 'Well, you don't have a business license for everyone. Why are you singling us out?'"
If the city does not create a business license, Allison said, they would have to look at removing the peddler's license.
Council member Sean Kelly said although he still supports a business license, the proposed ordinance may need some revision.
"We still need to discuss it," he said.
Kelly said he expected the negative comments about the proposed collective garden ban, but added that he is currently researching the issue and speaking with officials from cities where collective gardens have been both approved and banned.
As for the collective garden ban, council member Erin Weaver said that there are two different arguments out there — whether medical marijuana is a legitimate medicine, and whether or not the city should legislate collective gardens — and that it is easy to confuse the two.
"Clearly it's a passionate issue that people feel really strongly about," she said. "It seems like Maple Valley is a battleground between federal and state law. It shouldn't be happening this way. I feel like it's become an issue about whether medical marijuana is a good idea or not. The issue isn't about the value of medical marijuana. It's about how does land use policy occur when there's a contradiction between two different government entities. We don't even have a clear state law."
Allison said he also feels conflicted.
"It's a tough call right now," he said. "The compassion that I have for people who go through pain, and not being able to find something to comfort them when they're going through that pain, is just difficult…But I'm struggling with the fact of looking at it from a City Council point of view and turning to my staff and saying 'It's illegal but I need you to do this anyways.' I struggle with that."
Weaver stated that the medical marijuana issue won't be decided in Maple Valley.
"It was valuable for them to come out and speak and I appreciate the time everyone took to come and speak," Weaver said. "I value all of those things. The problem is that it isn't addressing the real problem, and that is not how Maple Valley handles collective gardens. It's how does the state define them? They've poorly defined their state law. The battle really needs to occur at the state level."
Allison pointed out some council members, including himself, believe medical marijuana should be legalized. Earlier this year the council voted to support a letter written by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the DEA asking the federal agency to reclassify medical marijuana to a Schedule II drug, which would allow it to be used for medicinal purposes.
"I don't think the fight is here at the doorstep of Maple Valley," Allison said. "The fight should be at the steps of Congress, the steps of the DEA. I'm in favor of fighting this all the way to that federal level. But that's where the fight needs to be for me."
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.