Murky and conflicting laws appear to have doomed a proposal for a medical marijuana business in Langley.
During a Monday workshop, the city council informally agreed to follow the recommendation of Mayor Larry Kwarsick and not develop regulations that would have paved the way for Island Alternative Medicine on Second Street.
The medical marijuana dispensary business was proposed by Freeland resident Lucas Jushinski earlier this year.
Although several council members and Kwarsick maintained their personal support for medicinal marijuana, this is not a matter of simply approving land use regulations that will fit within the bounds of existing state rules.
Rather, this is a legal issue that revolves around the conflict between state and federal law, a quarrel that Kwarsick said he’s not prepared to get Langley involved with.
“The last thing I want to do is have our community embroiled in that kind of fight,” Kwarsick said.
Jushinski was not at the workshop but said in a later statement that he was disappointed with the mayor’s recommendation. He said he believes every community should try to provide a safe space for the acquisition of marijuana for qualified patients.
“It’s ironic, and in my opinion somewhat duplicitous, that the mayor states in his memo that it makes sense for sick people to have access to medical cannabis, but just not in his city,” Jushinski wrote.
“Hopefully, the Langley Council has enough courage to stand up and do what’s right by creating sensible regulations that allow Island Alternative Medicine to operate in the City of Langley,” his statement said.
However, it was clear during the workshop that the council largely agreed with Kwarsick’s recommendation.
“I think that it would be beyond the legal capacity of this city to develop ordinances that in any way commit federally illegal activities,” Councilman Hal Seligson said.
“It just can’t happen,” Councilman Bruce Allen echoed.
Councilwoman Rene Neff said she believes many people are ready to have medical marijuana more readily available, but that the law just isn’t there.
“I think we need to wait for the laws to catch up to where people are,” she said.
Councilman Doug Allderdice also supported Kwarsick’s proposal to do nothing, agreeing that this is a foggy legal issue. But, that only goes as far as the state’s current confusing rules and does not extend to the federal government’s ban.
“If we are within a state that has a coherent medical cannabis law, I’ll be here to purvey for something to happen in Langley,” Allderdice said. “But we’re not there.”
Kwarsick said he looked at the issue closely and had been optimistic that something could move forward. However, after drafting several versions of ordinances, he determined that regulations that would comply with existing state law just wouldn’t work in Langley.
Washington has allowed qualified patients to use marijuana medicinally for years, but the drug has always been, and continues to be, illegal to sell. In 2011, the Legislature passed a law that would have authorized the establishment of commercial dispensaries but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of the bill.
What remained were provisions for collective gardens, which allow up to 10 qualified patients to have a garden of no more than 45 plants. That put the onus on municipalities to adopt land use rules, such as appropriate zoning, the issuance of business licenses and business taxes, to regulate the gardens.
While some cities have adopted moratoriums on dispensaries and gardens, others like Mukilteo have passed laws that allow them to operate in certain areas. As a result, several access points have sprouted up within the community.
Marijuana is not sold; revenue is made by donation. And, according to Kwarsick, the 10-person limit is sidestepped through the careful management of temporary membership. For example, a person that walks in can sign up, then quit after they leave.
All the while, under federal law it remains illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess controlled substances such as marijuana, and the federal Controlled Substances Act overrides state regulations.
Kwarsick said he believes the current situation is the result of confusing rules and frustration by those who want to promote access to medical marijuana. They have tried to make sense of the regulations but he maintained storefronts with rotating memberships are outside the bounds of current state rules.
“I would love to be able to sit down and tear apart a law that I didn’t like and then paste it all back together into something that makes sense, but we just don’t get to do that and neither do they,” he said.
In light of the workshop, Kwarsick said later that the city will almost certainly move to formally reject Jushinski’s application for a business license on the basis that it does not comply with federal law.
Also because of the public support behind Jushinski, Kwarsick and the city council informally agreed that it would be best to address the issue again and offer an explanation at its next regular meeting this Monday.
Jushinski is urging people to call Kwarsick and voice their frustration and disappointment with his recommendation. He declined to comment about whether or not he will take any further action.
“It’s not the end of it,” Jushinski said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”