Clallam County commissioners field concerns over state pot law; public forum in the works

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Four members of the public told Clallam County commissioners they are concerned over a potential marijuana growing operation in the Dungeness Valley.

More than a dozen others have emailed county officials about the implications of legalized pot in their neighborhoods.

As a result, County Commissioner Jim McEntire said he wants to hold a public forum on the county’s implementation of voter-approved Initiative 502, which in 2012 legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older.

“We’ll agree on a time and place,” McEntire said Tuesday.

“I’d love to sit down for as many hours as it takes to talk this through so at least we understand what the possibilities are, what the process is and that kind of thing.”

The state Liquor Control Board is in charge of implementing the recreational marijuana law.

Although Clallam County does not issue business licenses, it could block a marijuana business from operating through ordinance amendments or code changes.

But that would require a lengthy process involving Community Development Department planners, the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

“I hear you,” McEntire told the concerned residents at the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting.

“I get it. But we want to do this the right way.”

The Liquor Board received 45 business license applications from prospective marijuana growers, 30 applications from pot processors and 30 applications from would-be retailers in Clallam County.

Jefferson County entrepreneurs filed with the state 25 applications for growing, 24 for processing and 16 for selling pot.

While there is no limit on the number of growers or processors that can be licensed, the Liquor Board will cap retail stores at six in Clallam County and four in Jefferson County.

The Liquor Board is asking cities and counties to comment on the legitimate business license applications weeded out of a pool of 7,014 received statewide.

As of Wednesday, Clallam County had received just three notices from the state, none of which is associated with the Dungeness Valley complaints.

Cities and counties have 20 days to approve or disapprove an applicant and location of the business.

Pot stores must be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, libraries, parks and other places where children congregate

Chuck Hagenian told commissioners that an applicant for a marijuana growing and processing business was attempting to purchase a vacant 5-acre parcel in a residential development in the Dungeness Valley.

He said the prospect of a marijuana grow in his neighborhood was “very upsetting” and asked the commissioners how they plan to protect residential areas from commercial pot farms.

Toney Allen raised concerns about lighting, herbicides, pesticides and odors coming from marijuana growing and processing sites.

“Another thing that we’re all concerned with in here is crime,” Allen said.

“Crime will go up. How much? We don’t know.

“All these questions have to be asked and addressed by the people that want to do this.”

The Liquor Board does not publish the names behind the business license applications before they are vetted and sent to cities and counties for review.

The business names and addresses of all the applications are available on the Liquor Board’s website, www.liq.wa.gov, under “Public Records.”

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson this month determined that local governments have the authority to ban marijuana in their jurisdictions.

Nearly three dozen cities, including Port Townsend, have adopted moratoriums on pot businesses, according to a Seattle-based marijuana think tank called the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy.

McEntire noted that Clallam County voters approved I-502 by 20,812 to 17,079 in November 2012.

“I’m not inclined personally to try to overturn the will of the voters,” McEntire said.

“Moratoria is just a word that’s not in my lexicon, particularly for a now-legal business. But there are appropriate and less-appropriate ways for that business to conduct its operation.”

McEntire said he will work with Sheila Roark Miller, the nation’s only elected community development director, to determine whether a change in county regulations is necessary.

“That’s a lengthy process and quite appropriate because we’re dealing with property rights,” McEntire said.

“We never want to be quick or precipitous when we’re dealing with somebody’s ability to use their property in legal ways.

“Exactly how to work this out, I’m not sure this minute,” McEntire added.

“But I would love to have a sit-down with all of you in your neighborhood and figure it out.”

Earlier, Commissioner Mike Doherty questioned whether county departments were looking into the issue.

“If we wait, we’re going to get a lot of nuisance complaints later,” Doherty said during a commissioners work session.

“We’ll get law enforcement issues. And then we’ll say, ‘Well, why didn’t we plan ahead?’”

County Administrator Jim Jones said elected officials and department heads already were commenting on the three applications received from the Liquor Board.

“It is happening,” Jones said.

“I think everybody’s doing their jobs, looking at it very carefully under the ordinances that we currently have on the books.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 29. 2014 6:57PM
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