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Law on medical marijuana leaves Langley in a fog

LANGLEY — City officials met again this week with the Freeland man who hopes to open a medical marijuana “access point” in Langley, but admitted that they’re still unsure what the city can do given the hazy legal fog surrounding medical marijuana issues.

Lucas Jushinski has been in talks to lease space on Second Street, behind Living Green and All Washed-Up Laundromat, as a location for his nonprofit, Island Alternative Medicine. The business would provide medical marijuana to patients who are legally authorized to use the drug.

The Langley City Council will hold a special council workshop on medical marijuana issues in Fellowship Hall at Langley United Methodist Church at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Jeff Arango, Langley’s planning director, said Jushinski will be given time to explain his business plans at the meeting.

Arango also said he will present background information on federal legal issues on marijuana, as well as an outline of Washington state law and what other communities have done to regulate medical marijuana enterprises.

“Basically, we’re just trying to provide enough information so that the community can weigh in and everyone understands the issues. But I don’t think we’re really going to be close to understanding what we’re going to do,” Arango said.

Mayor Larry Kwarsick and Arango met with Jushinski on Monday, and Arango said they’ve reviewed the recent experience of the city of Mukilteo in regulating “collective gardens” where medical marijuana is grown.

Mukilteo adopted interim regulations for collective gardens in January. Under state law, up to 10 qualifying patients can join together and have a collective garden with a maximum of 45 plants.

Arango said Mukilteo’s law — which prohibits collective gardens from being within 1,000 feet of another collective garden, or any residential areas, parks, schools, child care centers, youth facilities or community centers — wouldn’t work in Langley.

“If the city was going to put in that same requirement — interesting enough, other communities have done 300 feet, or something that’s less than 1,000 feet — you’d cover the city of Langley,” Arango explained. “In none of our commercial districts are there any properties that are more than 1,000 feet from one of those land uses.”

“It’s like the more we try to make sense of it, the more gray areas there are,” he said of the legal questions that surround medical marijuana.

Langley isn’t alone.

Under federal law, it’s illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess controlled substances such as marijuana. The federal Controlled Substances Act overrides state regulation of marijuana, though Carol Morris, a Washington state attorney who has previously provided legal advice to Langley, noted in a recent white paper on marijuana that the federal government “has shifted its enforcement efforts away from those individuals in compliance with state laws governing medical marijuana.”

At least 16 states have adopted laws on medical marijuana, according to Morris. Washington state voters approved the use of medical marijuana via Initiative 692 in 1998, and the state Legislature passed a law last year that authorized medical marijuana dispensaries.

Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed the parts of the law that included provisions on dispensaries, but left intact portions of the legislation that covered collective gardens.

Under the law, cities can adopt and enforce rules for zoning, business licenses, business taxes and other regulations on the “production, processing or dispensing of cannabis or cannabis products within their jurisdiction,” Morris said.

Cities can also adopt a moratorium to preserve the status quo until the Legislature clarifies the status of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Another potential twist: Initiative 502, a proposal to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, is expected to land on the General Election ballot in November.

Mountlake Terrace extended its moratorium on collective gardens last week.

The cities of Arlington, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Maple Valley, North Bend, Poulsbo, SeaTac, Snohomish and Tukwila have also adopted moratoriums on dispensaries or gardens or both, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Castle Rock, Everett and Ellensburg have adopted interim regulations on gardens.

Arango said he’s hoping Wednesday’s meeting includes a broad discussion on the issues, despite the very specific plans that Jushinski is pursuing.

“We want this discussion to be general. But here we have someone that’s obviously done his homework and has an attorney and has, I think, some information and background particularly on what he’s proposing to do. He should have an opportunity to say why he believes he’s within the law or not,” Arango said.

Wednesday’s council and community conversation isn’t expected to resolve the issues, or lead to any immediate action by the city council.

“Regardless of what we do, there’s gray areas,” Arango said.

“The city of Bellingham just revoked all of their business licenses for all of the dispensaries that they have. The city of Seattle … they clearly allow them. Other communities are doing moratoriums, others are allowing collective gardens,” he said.

Jushinski, however, is not proposing to start a collective garden, Arango noted.

“He wants to be the intermediary between the collective gardens and the patients. So where does that fit in? We don’t know,” Arango said.

City officials are anxious to hear from the public, which has remained largely silent on the issue since Jushinski’s plan prompted headlines in recent weeks. Arango said he hasn’t received a single email or phone call on the issue.

“We could go to the meeting and everyone in the audience is supportive of it. Or we could go and everyone in the audience is against it,” Arango said. “Some communities react to that by putting in a moratorium. Others move forward with doing what they think they can under the law, because they think that’s what should be done. We won’t know that until we have the meeting.”

Jushinski has created a Facebook page to spread word of the community meeting, and he’s invited both supporters and opponents.

Early Tuesday, his Facebook page showed 70 people who said they were planning on attending the council meeting, while another 27 were listed as maybes. Nearly 800 others on Facebook were also invited to attend.

Despite what comes from Wednesday’s meeting, Arango said state lawmakers have an obligation to clear up the confusion.

“Everyone understands that the law is convoluted. There is no clarity,” Arango said. “Anything we do is going to have risk. We even asked our insurance provider, AWC [Association of Washington Cities], what’s your opinion: ‘Well, we don’t have an opinion on it.’

“Some of it will come down to community attitudes and what we hear from the public. But at the end of the day, it should be cut and dry,” he said of state law on medical marijuana.

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