Norton, former owner of medical marijuana dispensaries in Key Center and Tacoma, was getting ready to set up shop at the Bayside Plaza in downtown Port Orchard. He’ll take the keys to the leased storefront on Saturday.
Norton asked me what the moratorium could mean to his budding business. Should he move forward with his plans? What are his options? What’s the chance dispensaries will ever be allowed in the city?
Norton said he just wants to help people who have health problems and can find no relief elsewhere. The organization NORML, which seeks to legalize marijuana, lists 19 clinical indications for medical marijuana, from Alzheimer’s, ALS, chronic pain and diabetes, to Rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea and Tourette’s syndrome.
The drug is not without side effects and risks, including the possibility of addiction and negative effects on the heart, lungs (if smoked) and impairment of activities of daily living, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
There are implications for mental health as well. According to NIDA, “A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.”
No doubt marijuana is powerful medicine, say proponents. But testimony from some who commented on the Kitsap Sun’s story indicate that, at least in some cases, it provides significant relief, where traditional prescription drugs have not, and with fewer side effects.
“Marijuana has replaced the psychotropics, and most of the pain meds and the muscle relaxers. … No more zombies,” wrote robodrill, whose wife has cancer and whose two sons are “wounded warriors.” “I have my wife back, and my sons are no longer the victims they once were, they have some pride back.”
Norton’s intention is to provide a “clean, neat, organized” facility where authorized patients can safely obtain the drug.
“We want people to realize this is going to be very, very professional,” he said.
And discreet. No tacky signs looking like something out of the 1960s. Even the name will be discreet: Bella Oha, meaning “beautiful leaf.”
Norton’s former business was “Green Health.” He shut it down after employees left in change while he recovered from a heart attack engaged in less than professional activities. Norton, with about 1,000 clients and a new partner, wants a fresh start in a new town. But since announcement of the pending moratorium, he’s wondering about the odds he’ll be able to do so.
City officials on Tuesday had plenty of questions of their own. What does the current city code say about dispensaries? Can they deny someone planning one a business license if they apply before the moratorium is formally enacted? Would this open the city up to a lawsuit? And how would the passage of a bill on medical marijuana currently before the state Legislature change the rules?
City code as it stands would allow dispensaries, and other jurisdictions, including Port Angeles, have allowed them. A business license was issued to one dispensary there, and the Port Angeles police won’t intervene unless a violation of the law is called to their attention.
But Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend is clear that, in his book, dispensaries are illegal — at least for now — and in his town they’ll be shut down. Townsend on Thursday issued a statement (complete text below), saying, “While the laws clearly need clarification for both those using it and those enforcing it, in my opinion it still is clear that dispensaries are not legal,” he said. “If one of the dispensaries opens in the city, I’m 100% sure we will take enforcement action, unless the law changes in the mean time.”
That could change with the passage of SB 5073, which calls for clarification of the rights of medical marijuana patients, as well as ways to track and regulate legal use of the drug. Hence the discussion of the moratorium. Townsend advised the city council to take a stance that will clearly spell out the city’s policy on dispensaries, at least until they know the fate of the bill.
Until the moratorium formally passes the council, anyone seeking to operate a dispensary could apply for a business license. But City Attorney Greg Jacoby said that the city would be within its rights to deny a license to such a business — even though current code allows it — based on the chief’s interpretation that it is illegal.
In doing so, however, Port Orchard could be opening itself up to the kind of controversy that occurred in Tacoma, when the city tried to revoke the licenses of eight dispensaries. The Tacoma City Council agreed to wait on enforcement until the fate of the bill is clear, after protesters descended on city hall.
The moratorium is not on the council’s agenda for Feb. 22. Norton will be there to state his case.
Take the poll on the Kitsap Caucus homepage: Do you favor or
oppose passage of SB 5073, “concerning the medical use of
Chief Al Townsend’s statement on medical marijuana dispensaries, Feb. 17, 2011:
While the laws clearly need clarification for both those using it and those enforcing it, in my opinion it still is clear that dispensaries are not legal. One patient, one caretaker or grower. That’s how I see it. I believe that’s how the prosecutor feels about it.
If one of the dispensaries opens in the city, I’m 100% sure we will take enforcement action, unless the law changes in the mean time.
If the law does change to legalize dispensaries, my biggest concern was how the city was going to regulate where they would be located. It appears now that the city will create a moratorium on the facilities until such time as they can sufficiently study that issue. I think that’s a really good idea.
What I find most interesting about this is……..if people really want to have options for medical marijuana, why not regulate it and dispense it through the facilities that already exist……..pharmacies. It would seem natural to do so in this way to help ensure compliance with the laws that they already have to follow. The facilities are professional and clean and already located around the community. Seems like the best way to do business. Let Pfizer and the other drug companies market it!
Alan L. Townsend
Chief of Police
City of Port Orchard
546 Bay Street
Port Orchard, WA 98366
(360) 876-1700 FAX: (360) 876-5546