Why the city of Maple Valley banned collective gardens
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
July 5, 2012 · Updated 10:11 AM
With the expiration of the moratorium on collective gardens quickly approaching, the Maple Valley City Council approved a ban at its June 25 meeting.
The ordinance, passed 6-1, prohibits collective gardens from being grown within the city limits.
The conflict between state and federal law, and the concept of federal preemption, was the primary reason for the council’s decision, according to statements made by councilors.
Deputy Mayor Victoria Laise Jonas, who made a motion for a vote on the ordinance, stated that as a member of the City Council she felt compelled to support the federal law.
“I sit up here tonight both as an elected official and an individual who has been touched by numerous stories from people who find themselves in chronic pain who use medical marijuana just to get through their daily existence,” she said. “However, as an elected official I must keep focus on this legislation and land use issue. When I was reelected to the City Council and I took the oath of office I swore to uphold the laws of the United States of America. This council does have the authority to ban collective gardens. I favor the ban because the federal government prohibits it. The state government doesn’t have the authority to overrule federal government.”
Many of the councilors, such as Noel Gerken, stated that they believe medical marijuana is a legitimate medicine for patients and should be legalized. But until the federal law is changed, however, they say their hands are tied.
“Marijuana is a Schedule I drug,” Gerken said. “Federal law outlaws it. Until that is changed we are to uphold federal law, despite what people say. I think that is the biggest reason I’m against marijuana in our city.”
Councilor Erin Weaver said that those who spoke against the ban at the meeting should direct their concerns at higher levels of government.
“I don’t think there’s an easy way out,” Weaver said. “I think until we have staff statue that’s clear and defined about what our responsibilities here are. The federal law is clear. The fight is there. It’s just not here. I’m supporting the ban.”
Council member Linda Johnson was the lone vote against the ban. She challenged the assertion made by various city officials, including City Manager David Johnston, that the city would be at a legal risk if the council approved zoning for collective gardens. She pointed out that Seattle does not comply with federal law when it comes to issues such as immigration or medical marijuana, and yet its city staff has to be sued or prosecuted.
“I wonder if the attorney general wrote such a strong letter to them because they’re breaking the law,” Johnson said. “Nobody is paying any attention to them. The feds have stated that for the part (of the law) that was found to be illegal, they’re not going to do anything about it. There’s been nobody prosecuted. You’re going to have a whole lot more faith in the federal government than I have right now. Not only does the state not do their job, but the feds are doing the same thing.”
Johnson argued the council should instead look at the ordinances other cities in King County have passed approving collective gardens and see how Maple Valley could safely and appropriately approve zoning.
“We have an opportunity here,” she said. “The city employees are not at risk…If the medical marijuana isn’t a problem, then the recreational marijuana is. How can we help both sides and assure that we are in a safe place? I want to look at that more. I think we need to take a deep breath and find how other cities are doing it and not just take the easy way out and say ‘Sorry the feds said we can’t do it.’ It’s just abdicating our responsibility.”
According to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, cities have the authority to ban collective gardens if they are given the powers to do so in their municipal code.
Community Development Director Ty Peterson stated in a Reporter story dated June 14, that aside from the conflict between state and federal law, a regulatory ordinance of some kind was necessary to avoid potential disputes in the future over zoning definitions.
“If you fail to regulate (collective gardens) at all you’re suggesting that’s a use that could occur anywhere,” he said.
The ban will take effect on July 11, the day the moratorium expires.
IDEA OF TASK FORCE PROPOSED
The Maple Valley City Council first dealt with the issue of medical marijuana collective gardens in July 2011, when it passed a year-long moratorium in response to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s line-item veto of large portions of the state’s medical cannabis law.
The council didn’t deal with the issue again until March, when it voted to support a letter signed by Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafeeto to the DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart. In the letter, Gregoire and Chafeeto asked Leonhart to reclassify medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, which would allow it to be to be grown, possessed and used for medicinal purposes, as well as remove the conflict between the state and federal law.
The controversy heated up in April, when the Green Society Group (GSG) opened at Frontier Village off of Southeast 272nd Street. Its owner, Chris Schoonover, described the business as a management access point for collective gardens. The business received stop work order and unsafe notices in May due to uncompleted tenement permits, according to city officials.
Several of the councilors commented on GSG at the June 25 meeting, saying that although they found the facility to be both secure and professional, they opened up while there was a moratorium in place.
“Regarding marijuana and for medical purposes, I’ve done a lot of research,” Gerken said. “I’ve found the collective garden in our city is very safe. They actually call the doctor to prescribe the note. That’s fantastic…I feel for the folks here. This is a tough issue.”
Although they approved a ban, councilors Layne Barnes and Sean Kelly suggested that the city create a task force to look at the issue and possibly come back with ideas for an ordinance that might allow the council to eventually approve zoning.
“I find some issues in there I find problematic,” Barnes said. “I find a lot of interpretation of law, because it’s ambiguous. People are making up the law as it goes….But I have concerns. We do have federal law that this is a class one substance. We have cities that have chosen to ban it, cities that have chosen to approve it. As I read through what Tacoma did, forming a task force, I think the best approach right now is to ban it, but to set the task force to fully study the issue, to look at it in a careful manner and take action later.”
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.