A workshop discussion Monday night indicated the Pasco City Council likely will outlaw medical marijuana gardens in the city to avoid violating federal anti-drug laws.
Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland have been holding their breath for almost a year in hopes the Legislature would act during the 2012 session to clarify a law passed the year before that would let cities write rules for how collective medical marijuana gardens could operate within their borders.
Attorneys for all three cities said the law needed clarification because Gov. Chris Gregoire had vetoed parts of it -- and because federal law continues to make growing or possessing marijuana illegal.
That put cities in the middle of a conflict between state and federal laws that city attorneys said was a no-win situation for municipal governments.
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All four cities approved year-long moratoriums on allowing medical cannabis gardens while they waited out the Legislature, but the 2012 session came and went with no changes to the law.
The 2011 law is an extension of an initiative voters approved in 1998 allowing certain patients with terminal illnesses and chronic pain access to medical marijuana.
It allows patients to grow up to 45 pot plants in a shared garden, with a limit of 15 per patient but also allowed cities to impose moratoriums while they figure out issues like zoning, taxation and business licensing.
Because the Legislature took no action on medical marijuana this year, Rick White, Pasco's community and economic development director, brought the council a proposed ordinance and resolution Monday that states simply that the city won't allow anything in its zoning code that violates state or federal law.
Pasco City Attorney Lee Kerr told the Herald that Pasco effectively bans medical marijuana gardens in the city but doesn't stop authorized patients from raising a medical marijuana defense in court if they're busted for possession -- as was allowed by the 1998 initiative.
But they still can be prosecuted in federal court, Kerr added.
Councilman Tom Larsen asked why federal law trumps state law in this case.
"The Constitution of the United States of America indicates all powers not given to the federal government remains with the states," Larsen said. "How does the federal government get that power when the states don't?"
Kerr explained that Congress has police powers to make certain conduct illegal, and criminalizing marijuana fits under that power.
"Under that clause, they have enacted myriad criminal statutes," Kerr said.
The council is expected to have a public hearing on the ordinance on June 4.