Clark County Approves Banning Marijuana Gardens for a Year

The Clark County Commission voted this morning to extend a temporary emergency moratorium on collective medical-marijuana gardens to one year.

The vote followed a public hearing the commission was required to hold after it voted in favor of a six-month moratorium in July. Representatives of the Clark County Sheriff’s office and numerous citizens urged the commission to extend the moratorium.

“We need more time to study this problem and come up with safeguards for our neighborhoods,” said Mike Cook, of Clark County’s Sheriff’s Office and commander of the Clark-Skamania County Drug Task Force.

The impetus for the moratorium was a new state law that would allow up to 10 qualified medical-marijuana users to establish a collective garden where no more than 45 plants could be grown for personal use. There is no limit on the number of gardens allowed in the state.

The gardens are what remain of a much larger medical-marijuana bill partially vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in April. The partial veto left a patchwork of ambiguous and inconsistent rules that cities and counties have found difficult to interpret.

Under the law, cities and counties are responsible for creating zoning, health and safety rules for the gardens, as well as enforcement of the rules. Because Clark County had no ordinances in place that applied to the new law or marijuana gardens, officials sought a six-month moratorium to work on implementation.

Crimes associated with marijuana have increased in Clark County, Cook said. In 2008, there were 12 robberies associated with marijuana. In 2010, the number doubled.

There is also concern that Clark County may be vulnerable to a legal challenge from the federal government. The resolution passed today included an expression of concern that Washington state’s new law may conflict with federal law.

“The United States’ Department of Justice has been pretty clear recently about this issue, saying that people who knowingly facilitate these activities violate the Controlled Substances Act,” said Axel Swanson, a senior policy analyst.

A half dozen people testified at the public hearing, all encouraging the commission to extend the ban.

Sue Lents, the president of the East Minnehaha neighborhood association, told the commission that 92 residents of the neighborhood attended a recent meeting when the issue of marijuana gardens was discussed. Most of them signed a petition “voicing grave concerns” about the possibility of gardens being located near their residences.

Kathryn Murdock, general counsel for the Vancouver School District, said that when the moratorium runs out and the commission approves zoning ordinances, the gardens should be prohibited from being grown within 500 feet of a school. She also asked that “growing of marijuana be strictly prohibited at any place or any location where it is visible or accessible by students along any established public walks, streets or public passageways used by students to go to and from school.”

“They might take a detour, and pick a few leaves,” she said. “We frequently hear that people’s biggest source of drugs today is the family medicine cabinet. We ask that we not extend that to the neighborhood collective cannabis garden.”

The city of Vancouver also approved a six-month ban in July. It is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Sept. 12.

– Article Originally from The Oregonian.