Marijuana

Residents ask commissioners to keep marijuana operations out of rural areas

In a 2014 file photo, marijuana plants grow on a residential property in a vegetable garden in Lake County, Calif. Lake County recently passed strict growing laws, but activists are putting a new initiative on the ballot to allow marijuana farming.
In a 2014 file photo, marijuana plants grow on a residential property in a vegetable garden in Lake County, Calif. Lake County recently passed strict growing laws, but activists are putting a new initiative on the ballot to allow marijuana farming. MCT

Saying they wanted to take more time to study the issue, the Thurston County commissioners opted not to take action after a public hearing late Tuesday on proposed changes to the county’s interim regulations for marijuana producers, processors and retailers.

Eleven people spoke at a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Three were associated with marijuana businesses.

The county also received written comments on the proposed ordinance from 30 people, said Jeremy Davis, a senior planner at Resource Stewardship.

He told the commissioners that 98 percent of the comments were “in support of in keeping marijuana producers and processors out of the rural residential areas.”

“We have some folks who would like to see it removed out of the county entirely,” Davis said.

The county has about 80 state-licensed marijuana operations that are permitted or under review, he said.

It has been operating under an interim set of zoning regulations for marijuana operations since November 2013. If approved, the ordinance would continue those regulations through November, and:

▪ Cap the number of medical marijuana cooperatives permitted in the county at 10. Under current regulations, the county doesn’t have a limit, but it doesn’t have any currently registered with the state. Cooperatives can serve up to four patients and grow 15 plants per person.

By law, a co-op has to be on property belonging to one of the patients, Davis said.

“It does have to be on a residential property,” he said, adding that commissioners can’t require a medical co-op to be in a commercial or industrial area.

▪ Allow utilities, such as wells and septic systems, to encroach into the 100-foot residential zone setback for marijuana establishments.

During the hearing, six people told commissioners they’d like to keep marijuana production and processing limited to areas that are zoned for industrial and commercial use. Some speakers said they were in favor of phasing out some of the businesses that were allowed under earlier rules in rural areas of the county, but wouldn’t be permitted under current regulations.

Commissioner Gary Edwards asked what the county can do if the three-member board no longer wants marijuana producers and processors in rural areas of the county.

Davis said they’re allowed to “sunset” enterprises that were allowed under earlier versions of the ordinance as long as business owners are given enough time to recoup their investments.

“I believe in Chelan County, they gave them two years, and some of the producers said that was long enough,” Davis said.

The county would need to establish an appeals process for business owners who haven’t made back their money, he said.

State-licensed grower Jim Hayes is in the review process for a county permit to produce marijuana on about an acre of his 10-acre flower farm outside of Yelm. He told the commissioners he began the permitting process in 2013.

“It’s been a really long process,” he said.

Hayes urged the commissioners to view marijuana as any other agricultural crop. He said they should consider how much people have invested into their businesses before they think about changing zoning rules.

“I think it brings a lot to the community in terms of creating work and jobs for people,” Hayes said after the hearing.

Christy White of the Delphi area said she’d like the county to adopt stricter regulations that, among other things, would notify residents in a 3-mile radius of proposed marijuana businesses in their neighborhood and adopt a grievance policy for residents who have complaints about marijuana operations. She asked the commissioners to take their time in crafting a detailed ordinance that will help protect the rural areas of the county.

“I think we need to do a lot more as we develop this industry,” White said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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