If he receives approval from Washington’s Liquor Control Board, Sequim’s Thomas Ash will soon be legally growing marijuana for recreational use.
But first he needs approval of at least one of three conditional use permits he has filed with Clallam County’s Department of Community Development.
The county permits will allow Ash to build the greenhouses where he will grow and process the pot. He has asked for two permits for planned greenhouses on Shore Road, which is located midway between Sequim and Port Angeles, and another for his farm on Marine Drive in Sequim.
Ash is one of an as-yet undetermined number of entrepreneurs who hope to profit from Washington Initiative 502, which was approved by the state’s voters in November 2012.
The Washington Liquor Control Board started accepting applications for producers, processors and retailers Monday, Nov. 18.
Ash says he plans to use the greenhouses for other purposes as well.
He and his wife, Jean Davis, plan to expand the stand of tropical fruit trees now growing at their Sequim farm, which is at 1430 Marine Drive. They also plan to grow wasabi and perhaps, Ash said, truffles.
The two have owned the farm since 2002 and have lived in Sequim since 2003.
So far, Ash said, the response from neighbors and others has ranged from “ambivalent to kind and nice.”
He said some are concerned about security, but he said security issues have been largely overstated.
The anti-referendum campaign played up the concerns, he said. He compared marijuana farming to tobacco farming, saying “tons and tons of cigarettes are stolen, but nobody steals tobacco.”
He said the most likely security breach would occur as the result of “tomfoolery.” The law requires extensive security measures, including 24-hour security cameras that can work in darkness.
On his application for the Conditional Use Permit, Ash said he might have as many as three workers, but he said that’s just a guess because the growing operations are largely automated.
Ash is also seeking two conditional use permits for two adjacent properties on Shore Road near U.S. Highway 101. The properties are owned by Donald and Darlene Turco of Joyce.
Under the plan, each lot would be house a 2,688-square foot greenhouse.
Greg Ballard, senior planner with the Department of Community Development, said Ash appeared before a hearing examiner to make his case for the two permits Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Ballard said the application for the two CUPs doesn’t mention marijuana, “so we asked for more information and more description of their plan.”
He said Ash and his representative, Annie O’Rourke, an expert in zoning law, provided a clarification, “but there’s no mention of marijuana.”
“But,” he added, “with the passage of 502, it’s something we suspect.”
He said the staff report on the application includes a “worst case” scenario that provides an examination of “the most impactful crop they could grow on this site. So we looked at it as if it was marijuana.”
Ash says he isn’t trying to cover up anything and is telling anyone who asks what he plans. But he also noted that at this point, he has no authority to say he’s going to grow marijuana.
That’s up to the Liquor Control Board, he said.
Covering the bases
Ballard said the county’s concern isn’t so much ecological as security-based.
“Marijuana is a controlled substance, so we’re looking at people trying to break in or steal it,” Ballard said.
The staff’s final report, he said, addresses those issues, including fencing, gating and landscaping.
Because the facility will likely be translucent, the report also addresses nuisance light.
Ballard agreed the law requires Ash to implement an extensive range of security measures: “It’s amazing. You have to inventory every plant, you have to have a name tag on whenever you’re on the site and you have to certify where the dead plants go.”
Ballard said Ash is required to ask for the conditional use permits because of the proposed locations for the greenhouses. In many areas of the county no permit would be required.
“Just north of the (Shore Road location), if it was a hoop greenhouse, it wouldn’t need anything,” he said.
Ballard said his office sent out notices to 24 people living within 600 feet of the Shore Road site and received four responses. “That isn’t much,” he said.
Julie Allen, who both lives at 616 Shore Road and operates a native plant nursery there, said she was concerned about light pollution, the potential for fertilizer run-off and “attracting criminals to the neighborhood.”
She described greenhouses as “difficult to secure,” and noted that the crops may mature at different times thought the year. “This induces criminals to visit the greenhouses on a regular basis.”
Robert Onnen, who lives at 101 Reich Lane, also expressed his concern, saying, “I believe the possibility of criminal activity surrounding such use could be substantial and detrimental to our peace-loving community.”
Community Development also invited area agencies and the public to comment on the plan.
Ballard said he expects Chris Melley, the hearing officer on the Shore Road CUP applications, will render a decision by Nov. 27.
The Marine Drive proposal will be the subject of a hearing on Nov. 27.