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Marijuana decisions left in local hands
Sequim Gazette staff
Is there a marijuana shop in Sequim’s future? Is there room for a pot farm in Clallam County?
That’s now up to the powers-that-be at City Hall and at the courthouse in Port Angeles.
So says Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson.
Ferguson prepared the opinion, released Jan. 16, in response to a request from Sharon Foster, chairman of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the agency that is overseeing the implementation of Initiative 502. I-502, approved by Washington voters in 2012, legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in the state.
The formal opinion concludes I-502 “as drafted and presented to the voters” doesn’t prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions.
Sequim Mayor Candace Pratt said the recently released opinion requires more thought.
“I think that’s going to be interesting to see how we handle it,” Pratt said.
She said she hasn’t had an opportunity to fully consider the matter and hasn’t yet decided if the operations should be allowed to open in Sequim.
Pratt noted that prior to the publication of the opinion, council members had discussed the issue and had largely assumed it would be treated “as a routine business to open — at least in terms of our ordinance.”
She welcomed the opportunity to have some say in the matter. “It’s a good thing that we can think about it, rather than just accept it.”
Clallam Commissioner Jim McEntire echoed those comments, saying “I’m always in favor of local control. And the AG’s opinion says that continues to exist. It’s still within the immediate reach of the people within the county and city to decide.”
McEntire said he and his fellow commissioners have only spoken briefly on the topic.
Because the measure was approved by a 10 percent margin within Clallam County, McEntire said he is “inclined to listen and not get in the way of that.”
He suggested that may be a majority view on the three-man commission.
But McEntire also said it’s too early to make a decision, noting the regulatory structure still hasn’t been entirely put into place by the Liquor Control Board. Until that happens, he is reluctant to start tinkering with county ordinances.
He noted too that the Liquor Control Board will now have to re-think its own program.
“They asked for an opinion and got the one they didn’t want. That will have an impact on how the regulatory program rolls out.”
“A lot of my constituents have a lot of anxieties about who’s going to be locating what business where,” McEntire said.
He said those who want to open a growing, packaging or retail business should seek out a location that’s best suited for the purposes.
“If I was living in a neighborhood — a loosely packed neighborhood — I wouldn’t want to see one go up. Plain old good common sense should be the order of the day.”
Clallam Community Development Director Sheila Miller will also have a say in the matter.
Among her lawful duties, Miller is required to advise the County Commissioners on zoning, environmental policy, and agriculture.
Miller says she’s working with others to put together a meeting with all of the department heads that are affected by I-502, including the sheriff and the honchos at environmental health.
She noted that most of the control of marijuana businesses remains in the Liquor Control Board’s hands. For the time being, she’s going to leave it that way. “We’re not making any changes, because we don’t have the staff to make the changes,” she said.
As a result, “We don’t see it as any different than a tomato plant.”
Miller added that she does have a few questions that require answers, including a better interpretation of the law’s requirement that all such businesses must be sited no less than 1,000 feet from day care centers, schools, playgrounds and other public places where children gather.
“What about in-home day care centers?” she asked. She added that she needs guidance on responding when a new day care center or school wants to be sited near an existing marijuana operation.
On the other hand
Chuck Hagenian, who owns a home in Gaskill Acres, a small development near Woodcock Road, said he was heartened by the attorney general’s opinion.
Hagenian said he has been in contact with county officials regarding a planned marijuana growing and processing facility in the neighborhood, which now has 10 homes.
County officials have told him there’s little they can do because the land, which is divided into 24 5-acre lots, is still zoned for agricultural use. Hagenian said he was told by county officials that marijuana is no different from broccoli or corn.
Hagenian disagrees, noting that farms growing and processing broccoli aren’t required to have an 8-foot tall fence, lighting and signs warning away anyone under 21.
He also noted that the property for the planned facility is located diagonally across the street from a home where a 2-year-old and and a 5-year-old live.
He said the law requires marijuana facilities to be sited 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds and other areas where children congregate. “Where are they when they’re not at school?” Hagenian asked.
“They’re at home.”
He said the new facility also is likely to be architecturally intrusive. “If they’re coming and and building for growing and producing, it won’t be a house. I would venture to say it won’t be architecturally compatible.”
Hagenian said he’ll continue his efforts to ensure that marijuana operations aren’t located in residential areas. He said the impact is obvious: “A family won’t move in. And a family will likely move out. There has to be land in other places.”