The city of Bellevue is not exactly known for medical marijuana. But City Hall is abuzz over possible medical cannabis cooperatives and research facilities. New policy is being developed.
Here’s the backdrop. A new state law passed last year merges the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana industries. There will be more licenses for recreational pot stores and many medical marijuana dispensaries will convert or be absorbed into the recreational outlets.
But as of June there will also be a new category of medical weed emporiums called medical cooperatives. They will allow fewer patients to grow more marijuana plants than medical collective gardens. But the switch to medical cooperatives from collective medical gardens renders obsolete medical pot regulations like Bellevue’s, unless action is taken.
Prohibition In Residential Areas Possible
The City Council appears to favor prohibiting the new medical cooperatives in residential areas. It’s divided over whether to enact stronger penalties for code violations and permit cannabis-related medical research in city limits.
The latest council discussion took place less than a week after Bellevue Police and the Eastside Narcotics Task Force raided two illegal marijuana growing operations in the city. The operations had been run out of residential homes reconfigured exclusively for growing cannabis, with more than 1,600 marijuana plants seized during the April 26 raid.
Chelminiak Wary Of Big Home-Grows At Medical Collectives
This is exactly what could happen to other homes if medical marijuana collectives are permitted in residential neighborhoods, said Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak during the Monday, May 2 study session. Despite what anyone calls them, the medical facilities are really just businesses, he added.
Allowing medical cooperatives in residential areas is also unnecessary because patients will be able to get medical weed from retail stores once the new law is in effect, added Councilmember Lynne Robinson.
In 2013 the Bellevue council passed an ordinance restricting marijuana collective gardens to light industrial zoning and at least 1,000 ft. away from schools and churches. Last year they delayed setting up regulations for cannabis research when the new state law passed.
60 Plants Per Medical Cooperative
Under the new state law a cooperative allows for four qualified medical marijuana patients to grow 60 plants in a single residence. There can only be one cooperative per tax parcel and they must register with the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. Current state law regarding collective gardens permit 10 qualifying patients per garden and a maximum of 45 plants.
The council was divided over whether to permit cannabis use for research purposes. If allowed, any research uses would have to be approved by the state-financed Life Sciences Discovery Fund. Licensed researchers could only sell medical cannabis to another licensed researcher for research use.
The council also was uncertain over proposed civil penalties for growing operations in residential homes.
City staff said it would allow neighbors to report suspicious activity or smells and allow code enforcement officers to intervene more easily.
Council Decision Likely By July
Although the council provided feedback to city staff at the May 2 study session, a decision won’t be made until July.
Right now Bellevue has four licensed recreational marijuana retail stores and three marijuana producers in operation.
Bellevue Teens, Police Not Much Affected By Legal Weed
Despite concerns over youth access to cannabis, arrests for marijuana since marijuana have declined since it was legalized in 2014. Alcohol is still the number one abuse problem for Bellevue high schools and kids who access weed still obtain it from sources other than retail stores, city staff reported.
Retail marijuana stores in Bellevue have not led to increased police calls or criminal activity, according to city documents.
Still, there are fears about marijuana operations elsewhere in Puget Sound. In an 8-1 vote recently the King County Council imposed a four-month moratorium on marijuana growing and businesses in unincorporated areas just a day after the Bellevue marijuana raids. Councilmembers claimed it’s in response to concerns over unpleasant odors created by both growing facilities and stores, and possible criminal activity.