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Extended medical marijuana moratorium continues Bonney Lake's wait-and-see stance

Bonney Lake's City Council unanimously voted Feb. 28 to extend a moratorium on collective gardens for medicinal marijuana, following a public forum that elicited no comment.

It is the council's latest move in prolonging a wait-and-see strategy adopted in the absence of state leadership on holes in cannabis policy, or federal approval.

Washington is one of 16 states—plus the District of Columbia—to have legalized medical cannabis for a limited range of ailments. However, the state law only provides an affirmative defense for possession of cannabis plants for approved medical use; meaning anyone caught with harvested herb or a plant can still be charged with possession, but a person with a legitimate doctor's note can present it as a defense in court.

More importantly, the federal government does not recognize state laws on medical cannabis, and continues to classify the plant as a Schedule I controlled substance.

"Our legal advice has been, so far, that the federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug," Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said.

That logic has been the driving force behind the Bonney Lake moratorium, and a similar moratorium on cannabis dispensaries in Sumner. Sumner held a public forum on the moratorium at its Monday council meeting.

The Bonney Lake moratorium, however, deals specifically with collective gardens.

Under the state law, individual medical cannabis patients are allowed 24 ounces of harvested pot and 15 plants. Broadly speaking, a collective garden is a mechanism to group several allowable individual plants into one sum crop for greater efficiency of production. The allowable amounts are individually divided and owned; they just happen to be growing in the same location.

"There's some confusion (in the state law) even as to how a collective garden is defined," City Administrator Don Morrison said. "How would that be zoned? I don't know. Would it be commercial? I don't know."

Dispensaries have been easier for the city to handle on a piecemeal basis.

First, because there has only been one application to open such a business. Second, because business applications can be denied if its trade is deemed to be illegal, which it is under federal law.

Bonney Lake may have to wait longer for state guidance. Senate Bill 6265, regarding collective gardens and nonprofit patient cooperatives, died in committee Feb. 22. A voter initiative legalizing the possession, sale and taxation of up to an ounce of marijuana for persons 21-years-and-older, I-502, has been approved for placement on the November ballot.

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