E.C. cities wrestle with marijuana issue

The cities of Elma and Montesano are trying to figure out how to deal with potential marijuana dispensaries, distribition centers and collective gardens in the face of continued leniency toward medicinal marijuana across the state along with the passage of Initiative 502, which decriminalized much of state law regarding the drug.

The Elma City Council on Monday decided to extend their moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens for another six months. But, in Montesano, Mayor Ken Estes decided to act on his own after facing resistance to declare a moratorium there.

Estes has directed all city staff not to issue any kind of license or permit dealing with any kind of marijuana facility.

Estes said there hasn’t been any recent communication from those interested in a dispensary or collective garden within city limits. However, a woman with a Beaverton, Ore. phone number contacted the city recently seeking guidance as to whether it would be possible to get potential permits to locate a warehouse for growing and distribution of marijuana under guidelines still being worked out by the Washington State Liquor Control Board under the Initiative 502 approval.

City Attorney Dan Glenn said that the city of Elma received a similar request.

“I checked the Department of Revenue and Corporation Division information sources,” Glenn wrote in a memo to Montesano Council members. “This is likely to continue as the Washington State Liquor Control Board goes through its assigned task of establishing rules and regulations in relation to implementation of the initiative. It is likely that, as with a liquor store license, some communication from the Washington State Liquor Control Board will be required with a city to determine if it agrees or disagrees with the application.”

“I issued a directive to city employees that if anyone comes to the counter and wants a license that they are to be told we do not issue licenses to a person or company that violates a state, city or federal law,” Estes said. “This would be for a warehouse, a dispensary, a collective garden, anything like that. The problem is the waffling the feds are doing and they very well may give their blessing to marijuana being legalized in our state. Then what? Then we’d have to come up with something. But as long as it’s illegal, no permits will be issued.”

The city of Elma has had a moratorium in place since September of last year.

But, as city officials discovered on Monday, a dispensary is already operating within city limits in violation of the existing moratorium.

Michael Brooks says he established the Emerald Green Collective in recent months in an industrial area of the city. He said when he applied for a business license he was never told that a moratorium was in place. Although the license was not approved, he points out, it wasn’t denied either and he started operations and already has patients in place.

Glenn told Brooks he neded to cease his business operations.

Sheriff Rick Scott said that there’s at least two functioning collective gardens/dispensaries operating in the county, one in Oakville and another north of Hoquiam on Highway 101.

“Those are probably the most open,” Scott said.

Scott said there’s some evidence of another dispensary operating within the city limits of Ocean Shores and rumor of a couple being run out of Aberdeen, “although we haven’t been told of an exact location.”

“We’ve been put in a curious position because of all the ambiguity to these specific laws,” Scott said. “Absent something pretty egregious we’ve sort of taken wait and see approach on some of these smaller groups. … We’re watching these closely and if we were to find that they were clearly in violation of the law or exploiting the law for profit, if there’s evidence to support it, we would want to work with the Prosecutor’s Office to file charges …

“But these are really hard cases to deal with,” Scott said. “They are labor intensive cases that, frankly, with limited resources we feel better serving the community by targeting drug trafficking organizations bringing in meth and heroin and pharmaceutical pills that are without question pretty serious violations of the law and they are certainly causing us more problems that some of these medical marijuana issues.”