Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke is in favor of medical marijuana. In a statement issued yesterday, Cooke said she supported the state's prescription-pot law when it was approved by voters in 1998, and that she sympathizes with cancer patients and others who rely on the drug for medicinal purposes. But following Gov. Christine Gregoire's partial veto of SB 5073, Cooke and her administration felt they had no choice but to tell the four dispensaries operating in the city to close their doors or take their business elsewhere.
In an interview this morning, Witham explained that the mayor tracked Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles' marijuana reform package as it made its way through the legislature. She warned dispensary owners months ago that if the final version of the bill did not expressly authorize pot vendors, they would be put out of business. After the announcement yesterday, dozens of protesters descended on Kent's city hall.
"It's really a bummer," Witham says. "We had a lot of folks here expressing their concern last night. It's a tough one. Clearly there are folks that do benefit from medical marijuana, and the state has really left those folks in a bad position."
Under the new piecemeal medical-marijuana package approved by Gregoire, dispensaries are banned but patients are still permitted to grow their own supply or contract with a designated provider. Kent prosecutor Tammi Perdue says the suburb's registered growers and smokers have nothing to fear.
"The intent of the legislation is to provide persons who desperately need it the means to grow and utilize marijuana," Perdue says. "We don't believe their intent was that it become a rampant commercial business within the state of Washington."
Asked why the city didn't take a hands-off, operate-at-your-own-peril approach to dispensaries as their neighbors Seattle and Tacoma have done, Witham fell back on the same excuse used by the Governor: Marijuana is against both federal and state law.
"I'm sure you followed the raids that occurred in Spokane--it's just crazy," Witham says. "We are just hoping they will come back to this issue in Olympia, whether it's in a special session or their first order of business when legislature convenes in January. They need to resolve this once and for all, in a way that makes it safe for those that need it and allows business to operate legally."