County controls for recreational cannabis still undecided

Clallam commissioners may look to voters for guidance

How recreational cannabis is locally managed could be up to the voters.

Following a Clallam County Board of Commissioners work session June 8, the commissioners opted to seek the steps needed to place two ordinances outlining county controls for recreational cannabis on the November General Election ballot.

The act of asking the voters to decide between the differing ordinances comes at a price.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money to do this when it’s their (commissioners’) job to vote on it,” Mary Ellen Winborn, Clallam County Department of Community Development director, said. “It will cost between $20,000 and $80,000 depending on how many other measures on the ballot.”

Since last October, county officials have relied on a temporary ordinance to address Initiative 502 (legalized recreational cannabis) applications or inquiries. To allow the Clallam County Planning Commission and Department of Community Development staff more time to create a permanent ordinance, county commissioners extended the interim ordinance once in March, but those controls (Ordinance 900) expire Sept. 17.

After 14 planning commission work sessions and ongoing revisions to the draft ordinance the planning commission failed to get the necessary vote to recommend the draft to the county commissioners for permanent adoption. They did however favor forwarding the draft ordinance to the county commissioners to discuss whether or not to adopt it as written.

Voters to decide

Turning from Winborn’s and the DCD staff’s recommendation to support the most recent draft ordinance, county commissioners leaned toward putting it on the November ballot.

“I for one think we should refer this to the voters. We can do that under our charter,” County Commissioner Mike Chapman, said. “It’s above my pay grade to determine in this case something that the voters gave us.”

After “arguing two years” about how to best manage recreational cannabis, Chapman said his “head hurts,” and he feels the voters would “appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on how it’s going to be regulated.”

The lengthy controversy, however, urges Winborn to seek the establishment of longterm local controls long before November. Adopting permanent controls would provide “clarity and security” to both residents and those involved in the industry for the first time since I-502 passed in late 2012, Winborn said.

“This just needs to be done,” she said. “With predictability we’ll see the industry flourish and residents find peace.”

During the work sessions, Winborn pointed out that as a result of no permanent controls and thus residents’ resistance to the recreational cannabis industry in neighborhoods, the county has three land-use petition act lawsuits.

“This is why clarity is so important,” she said. “We need to be very clear when it comes to land use and define the edges.”

Zoning restrictions

Where recreational cannabis can be produced, processed and sold is a primary difference between the DCD staff recommended ordinance and the interim ordinance.

“The proposed ordinance is more restrictive,” County Commissioner Jim McEntire said.

Unlike the temporary controls, the proposed permanent ordinance doesn’t allow for the production, processing or sale of recreational cannabis in areas zoned Agricultural Retention (AR).

“I’m interested in hearing from the farming community,” McEntire said. “I have trouble prohibiting them (farmers) from making income off this particular crop that’s grown and produced on their property as opposed to any other livestock that’s grown and produced.”

Without Agriculture Retention zones included in the recommended permanent ordinance, McEntire said he feels it’s “missing something.”

However, after 14 work sessions and ample public comment taken throughout the ordinance drafting process, no comments or requests were made from agriculture land owners, Winborn said.

“Our farm lands really are there for food production and these are industries,” she said. “It’s totally allowed in commercial forest and we have plenty of commercial forest land.”

Instead of prematurely developing more property, Winborn suggests continuing to funnel the I-502 industry into areas it’s already going, such as industrial commercial zones and in some cases gentrifying dilapidated buildings.

“Why not wait until it’s (cannabis industry) busting out at the seams? Then maybe we’ll look at the AR zone if it really becomes crucial,” she said. “But right now we don’t have to. No one is asking or beating down the door saying, ‘We want this in our AR zone.’”

Despite the lack of outspoken interest in the I-502 industry as an allowed use under the interim ordinance from AR property owners, Winborn met with the Agricultural Commission on June 15 to address McEntire’s concerns. The commission is an advisory group of seven members representing a cross-section of farmers and others involved in agriculture.

Based on her meeting with the commission, “They would still like the option” to pursue I-502 related activity on property zoned AR, Winborn said. Knowing there is an interest, Winborn plans to explore whether and how to best integrate the commission’s feedback into the proposed ordinance.

Medical cannabis

As a result of the state Legislature’s approval in April of Senate Bill 5052, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will become the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on July 24. Beyond the name change, the bill also establishes the Cannabis Patient Protection Act and the use of the regulations in place for the recreational market to provide regulations for medical use, too.

Although regulations for medical and recreational cannabis are to be bridged, the proposed ordinance doesn’t include controls for medicinal cannabis because impacts of the bill aren’t expected any time soon, Kevin LoPiccolo, DCD planning manager, said.

“Pretty much nothing goes into effect until July 2016,” he said. “We didn’t want to stop and essentially create a new ordinance when we have a year to do that.”

LoPiccolo assured once a permanent ordinance is in place for recreational cannabis in unincorporated Clallam County, it can be modified later to include medical regulations or a new chapter can be added.

Thus, neither the current interim ordinance nor the proposed ordinance address medical cannabis use, sale or production, but it will eventually need “factored in,” McEntire said.