Master Gardeners in Spokane help people with questions about horticulture, pests and even environmental stewardship.
Just don’t ask them for help growing marijuana.
A couple months after voters approved Initiative 502 legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, would-be pot growers have been asking for help, county extension officials said Tuesday.
The program, operated by Spokane County Extension through Washington State University, has told its Master Gardener volunteers to avoid giving advice about marijuana cultivation. Spokane County Extension staff have received the same warning.
That didn’t stop some potential growers from showing up at the Extension Office at 222 N. Havana St. and asking for help, said Dori Babcock, the Spokane County Extension service director.
“We’ve already had some visits in the clinic and we’ve had to turn them away,” Babcock said.
The federal government still considers marijuana production and possession a crime.
While possession of less than an ounce of pot is legal under state law in Washington, it remains illegal to grow or sell marijuana.
The state is writing rules to regulate the production and sale of marijuana.
Rich Koenig, state director for the extension service, said WSU receives lots of federal money in the form of grants and student assistance. The extension service is a program of WSU with offices in all of the state’s 39 counties.
The university is worried about possibly running afoul of federal authorities who administer those funds if it were to cooperate with marijuana growers at the state level, Koenig said.
As a result, staff and faculty members are not going to provide advice or conduct research on marijuana. Koenig said WSU has been approached about the possibility of undertaking marijuana research.
A January newsletter for the Master Gardener program outlined the university’s policy.
Because of the conflict between state and federal law, “our personnel must refrain from being in possession of the plant for diagnostic purposes, and shall avoid consulting visits to grow sites or other educational efforts that directly support the cultivation and management of cannabis,” the newsletter said.
“Failure to adhere to federal law could place our federal formula funds for extension at risk, as well as exposing our personnel to federal prosecution,” the policy says.
In approving the initiative, voters agreed with provisions that will establish a system through the Washington State Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax marijuana, including production and sale. That system is supposed to be in place by Dec. 1.
State officials have been in talks with the U.S. attorney general about the conflict between the new state law and federal law. The state is in a position of defending the voters’ choice if the marijuana law is challenged by the federal government, state officials have said.