Kennewick officials want to extend a moratorium on collective gardens for medical marijuana for another six months.
The city council voted Tuesday to schedule a public hearing about extending the existing moratorium 180 days beyond Jan. 19, when the current temporary ban expires.
City attorney Lisa Beaton told the council the issue is evolving at state and federal levels and Kennewick is working with other cities in Benton and Franklin counties to develop a regional plan.
The Kennewick Planning Commission last month discussed creating zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens.
Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg told the Herald that allowing people to have medical marijuana cards, which allow them to possess and use marijuana for medical reasons, has led to an increase in criminal activity in the past three years.
The chief said crime statistics in Kennewick show there was only one case involving a theft, robbery or burglary and medical marijuana in 2009.
The next year there were three cases, and so far this year there have been eight cases.
Of those 11 cases, eight were robberies, Hohenberg said.
Beaton said the issue for the city is how to accommodate collective gardens for medical marijuana, as allowed under state law, when the federal law still makes growing and possessing marijuana a crime.
"There has been an increase in federal enforcement in western and eastern Washington against (marijuana) dispensaries," Beaton told the council. "There are significant security concerns with collective gardens, which do not have far to go to become full commercial enterprises," she said.
An extension on the moratorium is needed so there can be further evaluation, she said.
A recent federal case in California challenged the city of Long Beach on its medical marijuana ordinance that allowed a collective garden and dispensary.
Beaton noted there is no similar challenge yet in Washington.
Kennewick's adopting land use regulations regarding medical marijuana could raise the issue, she said.
"There is a disagreement (in California) ... as to whether the state or local medical marijuana laws are pre-empted (by federal law)," Beaton noted.
The council voted 5-0, with councilmen Bob Parks and Bob Olson absent, to move ahead on a six-month extension. A public hearing will be scheduled in early 2012.