Rural residents worried about what they say are lax marijuana-growing rules
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Karen Page, with her dog Winston, owns land adjacent to a proposed marijuana-growing operation. She complained to county commissioners that current rules make it seem that it’s “just like growing kale.” ­—Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — While several residents have voiced concerns about a perceived lack of regulations for the establishment of rural marijuana growing operations, Jefferson County officials said all of the misgivings will be addressed.

“With the splitting of responsibilities between the state and the county, it is inherently confusing and difficult for the citizens involved,” said County Administrator Philip Morley after nine people spoke out against the county’s policy at Monday’s meeting of the county commissioners.

The main issues are that neighbors of the proposed operations do not have the opportunity to comment about the operation before its approval and that the operations do not require a conditional-use permit for growing recreational marijuana.

“We should make sure that marijuana is grown in certain areas such as light industry,” said former Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Juelie Dalzell.

“Marijuana is not safe for adolescents and to have growing operations unregulated, anywhere in the county, is not a good idea, and it would be in the best interest to come up with some kind of notice to let people know when marijuana operations are going in next to one’s home.”

Chimacum resident Kristina Mayer voiced similar concerns over notification for neighbors.

“That we fail to give neighbors notice and an opportunity to voice objections about marijuana growing violates our due process and violates not only the U.S. but also the Washington state constitution,” said Mayer, who is the chair of the Washington State Board of Education.

Mayer cited Senate Bill 6505, passed in the most recent legislative session, which states “the terms ‘agriculture,’ ‘farming,’ ‘horticulture,’ ‘horticultural,’ and ‘horticultural product’ may not be construed to include or relate to marijuana, useable marijuana, or marijuana-infused products.”

Also at issue is the designation of marijuana as a standard agricultural product and the implementation of regulations that apply to vegetables.

“Right now they are saying this is just like growing kale,” said Karen Page, who owns land adjacent to a proposed grow facility.

“If this were true, there should be no restrictions, but the State Liquor Control Board has said there are controls, there are issues, and it’s not just like growing kale.”

According to Stacie Hoskins, planning manager for the Jefferson County Department of Community Development, the county has currently received 27 applications for growing operations.

All but four of those have applied to become processors as well.

Under the current structure, production can be approved by the county without a conditional-use permit, which any processing operation will require.

Clallam County along with several other counties in the state are requiring such permits.

Clallam commissioners ruled earlier this month that marijuana will not be considered to be 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.

Page and one of her neighbors, Sharon Hall, both spoke at Monday’s meeting and are most concerned by compliance with Water Resource Inventory Area 17 regulations, which control the flow of water out of tributaries of Chimacum Creek.

The regulation that limits new farming activity in the valley.

Hoskins acknowledges that the regulations could stand in the way of a grow operation in a specific location, but the county won’t be involved in this enforcement.

“We let all of the applicants know what type of permits they will need to get from the state, which is regulating all of the water issues along with the approved list of pesticides,” she said.

“There is no notification to neighbors that an application has been filed,” Hall said.

Neighbors are finding out by accident well after these permits have been submitted by the county to the State Liquor Board and they have been approved by them.”

Morley said the state is involved with screening applicants and awarding licenses, which the county can recommend or be against but not make the final decision, with the Department of Ecology weighing in on the potential ecological impacts of water consumption and fertilizer use.

The state Liquor Control Board is the licensing entity, Hoskins said.

The county’s main responsibility is the issuance of building permits and ensuring that any new structures adhere to county code, she said.

There are no guarantees since a potential grower can purchase land, apply for a permit, build the infrastructure and still not get a license, although there is no limit on the number of production or processing operations allowed.

Commissioner David Sullivan said the county should prepare a list of “frequently asked questions” for posting on its website to provide consistent answers “to the questions that I’ve answered many times before.”

“There needs to be some place where people can go to get the right answer,” he said.

“One thing that people need to know is that no processing permits have been issued.

When these applications are considered, that’s when people will get notified.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 28. 2014 6:07PM
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