Clallam County commissioners stand by permit process for growing, processing marijuana

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Growers and processors of recreational marijuana in Clallam County must first obtain a conditional-use permit, officials reaffirmed Monday.

Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller presented a one-page memo to commissioners that interprets county zoning for the production of legal cannabis.

Although it could impose a moratorium on voter-approved Initiative 502, Clallam County “wants to respect the wishes of its citizens” and apply current zoning to the production and sale of recreational pot, according to the memo.

“I’m not hearing a huge outcry from the public in any direction right now, so it seems to be working,” Commissioner Jim McEntire said.

“I’m comfortable where we’re at.”

Under the new law, which was approved by 55 percent of Clallam County citizens, the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older.

But unlike other crops, marijuana will not be considered as agriculture because it is still illegal under federal law, is highly regulated by the state Liquor Control Board and comes with local concerns over odors, lighting and security.

“That’s a big difference because outright agriculture is allowed outright in all our zones,” Planning Manager Steve Gray said at the board work session.

Marijuana growing operations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in the conditional use permit process.

“A conditional-use permit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re likely to be denied,” Gray said.

Three applications for marijuana conditional-use permits have been approved with conditions.

The permit, among the most strict land-use permits issued by the county, covers outdoor lighting, fencing and signage.

“We’ve had three go to the hearing examiner already, and we have another one on its way,” Roark Miller said.

“Part of the concern that we have is the legality and the strength — or lack of — in our code.”

Gray said the conditional use permit process carries a degree of unpredictably for the applicant and their neighbors.

Under county policy, neighbors will be notified when a marijuana permit is issued.

State officials are in charge of making sure marijuana businesses comply with a 1,000-foot buffer around schools, libraries, parks and other places where children congregate.

Three members of the county Planning Commission have supported more stringent standards for marijuana, such as limiting marijuana operations to industrial or light industrial zones, Gray said.

“I don’t have the answer, but we’ve been petitioned by residents, groups of neighborhoods,” Commissioner Mike Doherty said.

“I visited a couple of sites, and people are concerned that the county isn’t doing much.”

He added: “I think we have some duty ahead of a conditional-use permit that addresses some of the concern.”

Citizens are “anxious” about things like odor and lighting, Doherty said.

McEntire countered that much of the initial concern and confusion surrounding the recreational marijuana law have been assuaged. He said his general principle is to keep development ordinances and zoning stable.

“The sky has not fallen,” McEntire said.

“I think the process works. . . . I don’t see a pressing need from a public policy standpoint to re-configure our zoning.”

The state Liquor Control Board, which issues marijuana licenses, allotted six retail stores for Clallam County and four in Jefferson County.

State officials have said the first retail marijuana licences will be issued in June.

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

Last modified: April 14. 2014 6:07PM
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