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Clallam commissioners split on pot plan

The three county commissioners have vastly differing views regarding Initiative 502 and how to locally regulate it, leaving the Department of Community Development staff with little guidance. Monday’s board of county commissioners’ work session spanned well into the lunch hour because of a discussion on recreational marijuana and how to best regulate it.

“I am grateful for today’s discussion,” District 3 Commissioner Mike Doherty said. “It is long overdue.”

With “substantial” interest from I-502 processors and producers in Clallam County as a place to establish businesses given the lack of a moratorium and the area’s unique environmental characteristics that make it an ideal place for growing marijuana, DCD director Sheila Roark Miller prompted the commissioners to decide what legislative action they would like to take.

“There’s a balance needed for both economic development with this new industry and residential concerns,” Roark Miller said.

A brief timeline

Following the 30-day window the Washington State Liquor Control Board allowed for potential I-502 retailers, processors and producers to apply for state licenses in November 2013, licensees have been approaching the DCD with interest.

Thus far the DCD has received 17 conditional use permit applications; yet it wasn’t until early January that Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson provided information to allow local governments the “broad authority to regulate within their jurisdictions,” according to Ferguson’s January opinion.

During county commissioner meetings in both February and March, Roark Miller discussed recreational marijuana and two conclusions were drawn and put into a memo from her the beginning of April.

The memo summarized the DCD staff will not interpret agriculture to include marijuana and marijuana is considered a “unclassified” use.

All I-502 processors and/or producers are subject to the county’s conditional use permit process, with the exception of those interested in properties zoned industrial, limited industrial or business park.

To date, the conditional use permitting process has allowed county officials to filter through the I-502 applicants, but not without push back from some residential groups.

Roark Miller’s request to the commissioners asked for “necessary direction on whether or not the county’s current land use development regulations and comprehensive plan adequately address the procedures, siting and other nuisance concerns related to marijuana producers and processors in unincorporated Clallam County.”

Mixed opinions

County officials’ decision to not enforce a moratorium, unlike like the City of Sequim, has opened the door to a wide spectrum of opinions on how all things I-502 should be restricted or not, but it also has left the door open for potential economic development associated with the emerging industry.

“I haven’t seen any county regulate upfront very efficiently yet, but some have over-regulated and therefore lost out on business opportunity and this county didn’t do that,” said Tim Humiston, processor, producer and co-owner of Canna Organix.

However, because of the mixed feelings among residents and looming unknowns of the industry, Doherty feels to move forward and continue to allow I-502 licensees into the county is “not the responsible thing to do.” Without a moratorium, Doherty said he feels the issue of what to do “will only get worse.”

On the other hand, District 1 Commissioner Jim McEntire expressed his dislike for moratoriums and given the people voted for I-502, McEntire suggests it is now the task of local officials to “consider how to facilitate this industry in the most non-objectionable way.” Ideally, McEntire said he would like to find way to appease both the property rights of landowners and the rights of prospective business owners.

“Bottom line is I don’t want county government to be in a position to presume what’s best for neighborhoods,” McEntire said.

And District 2 Commissioner Mike Chapman simply replied to Roark Miller’s request with, “I don’t know what to do.”

Sooner rather than later

Following the commissioners’ thoughts on the DCD staffs’ request for the commissioners’ input, the floor was open to comment upon requests from those within the audience. Among the public comments, local attorney Craig Miller cautioned the commissioners to “start the legislative process quickly because (he) now represents three different neighborhoods that are ready to take any conditional use permit decision to court.”

With the ongoing interest in Clallam County as an ideal place for growing marijuana and nine conditional use permits pending, the pressure on the commissioners to provide the DCD staff with direction is building.

“This county has the opportunity to be a leading county for this industry,” said Matt Armstrong with Green Orchard and North Coast Concentrated. “If we don’t, somebody else will.”

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.

 

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