WEST RICHLAND -- Medical marijuana users will not be allowed to grow their cannabis together in small collective gardens in the West Richland for at least six months, perhaps longer.
That was the consensus of council members at Tuesday night's council meeting as members unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana gardens within city limits.
Councilman Brent Gerry was absent from the meeting, as was Mayor Donna Noski.
A new state law allowing medical marijuana collective gardens became active July 22, but in the Tri-Cities, patients won't be able to grow cannabis in community plots for medical use for at least six months.
Pasco passed a similar moratorium July 18, and the Kennewick and Richland city councils followed July 19.
If necessary, the moratorium can be extended for six additional months.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a law making changes to the voter-approved initiative that allows authorized patients to use marijuana to treat some terminal and chronic illnesses. One of the changes was a provision allowing 10 patients to grow up to 45 plants in a single garden.
"But the problem it raised was there's no direction on what to do with these pot gardens," said Bronson Brown, West Richland city attorney. It also brings Washington law into conflict with federal laws prohibiting growing, selling and possessing marijuana.
The Legislature left it up to the cities to decide how and where they can grow their cannabis. The law also allows cities to pass a moratorium giving city councils time to figure out how to apply zoning, business licensing, taxes and public health and safety regulations.
"I anticipate something will happen with the state Legislature within the next six months to have the law clarified a bit," Brown said.
In the meantime all four cities -- West Richland, Richland, Pasco and Kennewick -- will be working together to come up with a joint game plan on how to handle the question of the collective marijuana gardens, he said.
Chief West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy urged council members to consider carefully the problems pot can cause for the town once collective gardens are established.
"One is theft as people grow it, and then there's the close proximity to residences. You need to take it very seriously," he said.
The council set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Sept. 20 to hear comments from the public on permitting such gardens in the city limits.
* The council accepted an offer by members of the Richland/West Richland Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to form volunteer work parties to landscape the Bombing Range Road entrance to the Park At The Lakes.
Public Works Director Roscoe Slade will monitor the project to ensure costs do not exceed the $40,000 the council has budgeted.
* The council also voted 5-1 to contribute $5,500 toward the purchase of three scoreboards for Little League fields at the Bombing Range Sports Complex if the Greater Richland Little League buys and installs them.
The league has already raised $11,000 of the $16,500 needed to buy and replace the scoreboards.
Councilman Merle Johnson voted against spending the money, saying the city has already put a lot of money into the complex while other city parks lack amenities, such as bathrooms at Coyote Park.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org