By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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CHIMACUM — A more thorough and inclusive process is needed in rural Jefferson County for marijuana growing operations, and neighbors ought to be notified of applications, according to most of the speakers at a meeting in Chimacum this week.
About 10 people spoke at a meeting attended by about 100 people Wednesday.
The meeting at the Tri-Area Community Center was called by a group now dubbed Residents for Responsible Regulation.
The small group is concerned about the siting of marijuana growing and processing operations in residential neighborhoods.
“The county has decided they are going to implement as little as possible when it comes to approving marijuana growing operations,” Karen Page, a farmer who said she has spent several months attempting to clarify and improve the approval process.
“They are treating marijuana as any agricultural product, but growing it is a lot different than growing kale,” Page added.
She said security, power consumption, water use, noise, traffic and light pollution are factors that differentiate marijuana harvesting from other agricultural products.
Page has spoken several times during the public comment period at the county commissioners' meetings and has met privately with County Administrator Philip Morley and Department of Community Development Director Carl Smith.
The Wednesday meeting was the first effort to develop a public organization, she said, adding that about eight people are working with her.
At the beginning of the meeting, she christened the organization Residents for Responsible Regulation and said she plans to create a Facebook page over the next few weeks to keep people informed.
“People don't know what is going on with these permits and have no idea when a growing operation is moving in next door,” she said.
No marijuana growing or processing operations have been approved in Jefferson County.
A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 18 at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road.
Many of those who attended Wednesday indicated by raised hand that they had voted to approve Initiative 502 in November 2012 and legalize recreational marijuana.
Their concern was about the procedure for approving the sites.
The county does not require any public meetings for growing, but restrictions are in place for processing, which will require a cottage industry permit to begin operating.
Additionally, Page said, the regulations for marijuana businesses are less stringent than other enterprises.
Said Amanda Webby of Port Townsend: “I own a dog kennel, and the permits we needed to open were very specific.
“There were regulations about water use and what it was going to mean to the town and our neighbors.
“I'd think we'd talk about what it takes to put in a growing operation at least as much as we would when we put in a kennel.”
The effect on children also should be considered, according to Port Townsend resident Annette Gardner.
“This should not be allowed to happen,” she said. “I didn't expect this to happen next door to me without any notification.
“I don't like the idea that we are going to be sharing a well, sharing a driveway, and my kids are going to be riding a driveway where this is going on.
“I think the county needs to stop and take a little bit of time to think about what they are doing.”
“I have been told by the title companies that they are unable to issue title insurance on a property that is to be used for a marijuana growing operation," said Rian Lopeman, a real estate agent for Windermere in Port Townsend. "Therefore, escrow cannot close the transaction.”
Page said the real estate ramifications of 502 operations will be addressed at the next meeting.
She said county officials “have consistently refused to meet with us to explain what can and cannot be done.”
No county officials were invited to the Wednesday meeting. Page intends to invite county officials to attend the next meeting.
On Thursday, Morley said he did not attend “because I didn't want to crash their meeting” but would attend a future meeting if invited.
Morley said the county's strategy to treat marijuana as an agricultural product falls within legal limits and that the approval process is developing.
“At this point, we have no reason to regulate based on speculation,” he said.
“The issue with any new use has to do with fear of the unknown.
“At this point, there are unfounded concerns and fears rather than documented problems.
“We regulate for what is real and not for what is imagined.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.