Medical marijuana gardens now are banned in Pasco after a majority of the city council voted Monday night to stop waiting for the state Legislature to clarify a state law.
Five council members decided to end their yearlong moratorium and amend Pasco's zoning code to say the city won't allow anything that violates local, state and federal law.
That includes the issuing of a building permit or business license for a collective garden, where authorized patients would grow cannabis plants together.
Councilmen Bob Hoffmann and Tom Larsen voted against it.
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Five Tri-City residents addressed the full council during the 50-minute hearing and asked that they wait before making a final decision.
Hoffmann proposed extending the moratorium another six months or even a year in the hopes that state and federal government would resolve the conflict in that time. He also questioned putting a "sunset" on the legislation, or a deadline, so the city would be forced to revisit the issue.
However, Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said he would advise against extending the moratorium because the city would risk a lawsuit by someone who thought the officials weren't doing anything.
"The safer route is to take a position, deal with it now and if things change in court, hold another hearing and reconsider," he said.
The Legislature in 2011 passed a law allowing collective gardens, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed parts of it. The state law is at odds with federal law that makes growing or possessing marijuana illegal, no matter if it is for medicinal purposes.
Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland all put the issue on hold for almost a year to see if legislators would act during the 2012 session to clarify the 2011 law. But the recent session came and went with no changes to the law.
Crutchfield reminded council members that "we don't allow activities that we know are illegal" and even though state law allows the collective gardens, it doesn't mandate them. He added that the only difference with the amendment is now they are plugging it into the Pasco Municipal Code in black and white.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik said she was in favor of repealing the moratorium resolution because her objective is to keep the city out of court -- which could be quite costly at taxpayer expense -- if the council should act too soon or make the wrong decision now. Francik said she is sympathetic to those who need cannabis for medicine but also pointed out that when she took the oath of office, she swore to uphold the laws of both Washington and the United States, so she wondered if she could even take action on this issue.
Tate Andrews, a longtime Pasco resident and owner of Medi-Green Solutions, strongly suggested the council just focus on collective gardens and not medicinal marijuana overall. He works on a daily basis with the terminally ill, connecting patients with a reputable local doctor to get a valid authorization.
"We're at the precipice of something big in our community," Andrews said. He added that Pasco could set parameters allowing responsible business owners to bring proposals in an ethical, legal fashion, which would be much different than the "dingalings" who want to smoke dope in Columbia Park.
Clare Cranston, who'd been at the meeting to collect a "Yard of the Month" award, said he agreed with Larsen in that taking action to prohibit the gardens is in violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"No matter which way you go, you're going to violate a law," Cranston said. "If people are sick and they need cannabis, it is just like any other medicine, and they should have access to it."
Crutchfield said the issue likely will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, states like Washington with certain medical marijuana laws are in limbo until then.