The Sumner City Council voted unanimously for a moratorium that would prevent any submissions for business licenses, building applications or any land-use activities related to a medical marijuana business, at a special council meeting March 28.
The moratorium lasts six months and is renewable for an additional six months after that if the council decides to extend it. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 16 at 7 p.m.
The city says the moratorium is not in response to any pending applications, but is a proactive way for the city to stall any plans that could come forward.
"All around us cities are starting to take action on this subject. The issue is complicated and we did it as an emergency to place a 'hold' on any requests we might get,” said city administrator . “As of yesterday, we have not received any requests for a business license. We realized that as other cities were taking action, we also needed some time to study the issue and evaluate any changes we might need to make. This gives us six months to study the issue and come back with recommendations on the topic.”
The Bonney Lake City Council grappled with the same issue last year but decided not to impose any council action or moratorium. The issue was addressed in the public safety subcommittee meetings and various ideas on how to handle a dispensary application were discussed. However, the council decided to delay taking action on the issue.
“We are following this through the legislature and will take the appropriate action when we see if anything changes this session,” said Bonney Lake City Councilmember Laurie Carter.
The Washington State Cities Insurance Authority released a report in December recommending that cities take a closer look at medical marijuana dispensaries to see if they are in compliance with state law. Many businesses and cities throughout Washington have complained about the legality of dispensaries and the vague nature of the law as it stands today.
The state’s ambiguous medical marijuana law has caused headaches among patients, medical providers and the law-enforcement community since voters passed Initiative 692 in 1998, which made medical marijuana legal under state law. The state tried to clarify the law in 2007, but much remains opaque and execution is inconsistent among localities and health-care providers.
Dispensaries, or businesses that sell medical marijuana, are not legal under state law. However, authorized patients are allowed to grow small numbers of plants and trade marijuana with one another. Patients may possess a 60-day supply of the drug.
For example, the law gives doctors a court defense if they discuss with patients the use of medical marijuana for certain “debilitating conditions,” but doctors are not explicitly protected from legal ramifications if they offer prescriptions and thus rarely give advice on dosage, methods of ingestion, or even where to find medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, meaning pharmacies cannot provide medical marijuana, insurance companies do not cover it, and future administrations could decide to increase enforcement and charge health-care providers and patients.
Currently, the legislature is considering another clarification to the state’s law, which would expand the legal use of medical marijuana and allow licensed dispensaries to operate in the state. But that bill might not end up on the floor until June.