East County towns treading lightly over new pot laws

The owner of a marijuana dispensary in Elma says he has closed up shop following a cease and desist order from the city of Elma.

Meantime, the city of McCleary extended its existing moratorium on marijuana businesses. And city staff pressed the Montesano City Council to implement their own moratorium, but faced resistance from council members.

Michael Brooks, who operated the Emerald Green Collective, had outed his own shop last week during a public hearing for a medical marijuana moratorium to be continued. City officials were apparently unaware his dispensary was active and serving patients.

“Please consider this formal notice that the operation of the business, to the extent it is in operation, needs to immediately cease and desist,” City Attorney Dan Glenn wrote to Brooks.

Brooks confirmed receipt of the letter sent to him by Glenn. He says he’s since closed the location down, while considering what to do with the existing site.

“I located in an industrial area of town,” he said. “I had full security and it should have been in compliance.”

Brooks said he has recently found a location in a “friendlier area” in Olympia, where he hopes to operate.

“I had over 40 patients in the short time I was there, which shows a need,” Brooks said. “People need help. These are patients with medical cards and we were doing nothing wrong. …

“You know, I looked and could have operated right outside the city limits if I wanted, but there wasn’t a lot of businesses there and I wanted more activity around, which gives a better sense of security.”

The city of Elma extended its moratorium until September, but the county has no moratorium.

Last week, the McCleary City Council approved extending its existing moratorium.

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent said his primary concern is protecting his employees from helping facilitate drug activity that is still illegal under federal law.

“My employees shouldn’t feel threatened with arrest by the feds or charged with dereliction of duty,” Dent said. “This is safer for all of us.”

The city of Montesano doesn’t have a moratorium, although Mayor Ken Estes has directed staff not to issue any kind of permit for dispensaries, collective gardens or warehouses or any kind.

On Tuesday, city staff warned the Montesano City Council that the city is leaving itself open to being the home of medical marijuana dispensaries, collective gardens or any other kind of marijuana distribution facility because a moratorium on such facilities doesn’t exist within the city and no proper planning has been done.

Council members Chris Hutchings and Ken Walkington said existing law makes it nearly impossible for any kind of marijuana shop to open in Montesano.

Hutchings pointed out that nothing related to marijuana can exist within 1,000 feet of day cares, parks, schools or bus transit stations. At this point, Hutchings said the only real place for a medical marijuana facility — given the distance restrictions — is on the south side of the city near Mary’s River Lumber.

“You can’t drive more than a few hundred feet before you hit a day care of some kind or a school, including in those areas,” Walkington said.