Medical marijuana gardens expected to be allowed in Bremerton

While, some pot smokers will celebrate the unofficial "4-20" holiday Friday, medical marijuana growers in Bremerton may soon find a locally legal way to serve their clients.

In Bremerton, the city is still grappling with how to allow collective commercial marijuana growing operations in the city. State law recently expanded to allow small group efforts to produce medical marijuana for up to 10 legally defined patients.

Bremerton City Planner Allison Daniels is drafting a proposal for how the city should zone collective marijuana gardens.

"We have to allow it somewhere, but where exactly is the most appropriate place?" Daniels said.

Daniels expects to draft new zoning codes regulating palcement and permits for collective marijuana growing in the city over the next few months to have something to present to the planning commission before the moratorium ends in July.

Washington law states: "Qualifying patients may create and participate in collective gardens for the purpose of producing, processing, transporting, and delivering cannabis for medical use," and goes on to quantify how much cannabis patients can possess and that no one besides a qualifying patient may participate.

"If laws were consistent it would be easy to deal with," said Roger Lubovich, Bremerton city attorney.

From Lubovich's point of view, state laws allowing marijuana possession and use for medicinal reasons with a note from a doctor conflict with federal laws that only recognize it as an illegal drug.

Lubovich said he would rather see the city comply with federal law to be on the safe side.

"We're not taking a position for or against the marijuana issue," Lubovich said.

Bremerton decided not to issue licenses for cannabis dispensaries, which state law allows cities to determine.

"We've denied dispensaries, because state law allows us to do so," Lubovich said.

But the question of collective grow operations remains murky. State law allows collective grow operations of up to 10 patients and 24 ounces of pot and 15 plants maximum per person.

Bremerton passed a six-month moratorium on collective grow operations last August, and renewed it again in February.

Lubovich said an existing city ordinance, which he calls a "weird quirk," is the legal argument against allowing collective marijuana gardens in Bremerton city limits.

Lubovich said city code doesn't allow collective gardens of any kind for commercial purposes. A backyard gardener who sells produce at a farmer's market stand probably doesn't count as a commercial operation, Lubovich said.

The city of Bremerton does allow one collective garden, East Bremerton's Blueberry Park P Patch. Lubovich said the P Patch is allowed because it is not commercial. But the city would have to revise the commercial gardening rule to allow medical marijuana growers, and Lubovich doesn't want to be in that position.

The city planner said there's no such rule against collective gardening in Bremerton. "Right now our code is silent," said Daniels. She wasn't sure what code Lubovich might have been referring to.

When asked to clarify what he meant, Lubovich said it's true that Bremerton city code is silent on community gardens, and he meant that it's his interpretation that since the law doesn't explicitly say so, commercial gardens are not allowed.

State law does not define collective growing operations as commercial or non-commercial.

City Councilman Jim McDonald, who also serves on the planning committee that will deal with the issue, said they'll continue to follow the city attorney's advice.

Ben Livingston, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Cannabis Defense Coalition in Seattle, said he questions the logic of cities outlawing collective grow gardens.

"State law says [cities] can regulate in regard to zoning and licensing, but they can't outlaw collective gardens," he said.

Livingston thinks Washington state's rules should be the guiding point. Cities including Seattle, Tacoma and Bellingham have interpreted the rules differently and allowed dispensaries and grow operations to open shop.

"Why in the world is the Bremerton city attorney more worried about federal law than what we passed in our own state?" he said.


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