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North Bend council ready to ban medical marijuana

A unanimous vote by the North Bend City Council June 7 was the first step to setting a citywide moratorium on the opening or operation of any medical marijuana dispensary, for one year.

The decision will create an ordinance that would implement the moratorium. Ordinance changes require a public hearing before adoption, however, and the city has set a public hearing date of July 19.

A moratorium would help the city clarify its position on the state’s medical marijuana law, said City Administrator Duncan Wilson, since the state legislature was unable to clarify the law itself during its last session.

“Most cities and counties were very much looking forward to the legislature solving some of the problems that have been created by the last legislation not being complete,” Wilson said.

The law put in place in 1998, after voters approved medical marijuana in the state, was sparse and open to interpretation. A 2007 ruling from the Department of Health set the legal amounts of the drug a patient could have, and the legislature tried to pass bills in the past session with more specific language, and a requirement to register medical marijuana dispensaries and patients.

Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed the parts of the bill that required government oversight, such as registration, but approved an expanded list of conditions that could be legally treated with marijuana, and protection for patients growing the drug in a collective garden.

Gregoire’s stated reasons for her line-item veto of the bill were the same reasons that City Attorney Mike Kenyon offered for setting the moratorium, protecting employees from the risk of federal prosecution.

“We don’t want to put anybody in this city, any employee in this city... in jeopardy of being arrested by federal authorities for faithfully following state law,” he said.

Kenyon also said that several cities in the state are currently involved in lawsuits over the establishment of medical marijuana facilities.

“I don’t see any good reason not to adopt this moratorium,” he said.

Wilson added that several cities have already passed similar moratoriums to avoid the challenges of regulating such businesses while the law is unclear. He recommended the action to give the city time to “study the alternatives that we have both from a zoning and licensing standpoint.”

Two separate parties have recently contacted the city with inquiries about locating a dispensary in North Bend. The city does not take a stance for or against the businesses.

The moratorium would apply to dispensaries and production facilities within the city. The council will hear public testimony on the proposed ordinance  July 19 during its 7 p.m. regular meeting at the Mount Si Senior Center.

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