Jefferson County looks for state participation in marijuana regulation forum
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Karen Page chats with Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin prior to a meeting about marijuana regulations Wednesday night.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials have contacted the state to have a forum to clarify marijuana regulation boundaries between the county and the state, a county commissioner told a group protesting county rules this week.

“We hope to have everyone in one place, and people will be able to ask questions about whatever concerns they have,” District 3 County Commissioner John Austin told about 55 people at a meeting of the Residents for Responsible Regulation on Wednesday night.

“At that time, we can understand who has the responsibility for these requirements, whether it is the allocation of water resources or who needs to check on the 8-foot fences that surround the grow operations,” he added.

The meeting would include representatives of the Department of Ecology, the Liquor Control Board, the Department of Health, law enforcement and community development, county officials said.

“We want to take a good look at what's in place and examine the interplay between state law and local regulations,” County Administrator Philip Morley said Thursday, adding that he has contacted the Governor's Office for Regulatory Innovation.

“The purpose will be to coordinate the communication between the different agencies that are involved in I-502 regulation and enforcement.”

The state Liquor Control Board has not issued any licenses in Jefferson County to grow or process recreational marijuana, made legal when voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012.

Residents for Responsible Regulation is seeking a moratorium on marijuana growing operations.

They want them restricted from residential areas and a more thorough public comment process before the operations are approved.

The county is treating marijuana as a standard agricultural product, with strict permitting required for the more elaborate and industrial processing operations.

In neighboring Clallam County, planners did not classify marijuana as an agricultural commodity 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.

Residents for Responsible Regulation held its first meeting June 11 at the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum.

County officials were invited to the group's second meeting Wednesday.

Assessor Jeff Chapman told the group he couldn't say whether marijuana growing operations would affect property values “because it depends on the situation.

“If a fence is put up near your property line, it will affect your value. If it's way over on the other side and it's lower-key, it won't change anything.

“Grow operations could lower values and probably will for some property, but we can't make a judgment that every neighboring property will go down on value.”

Chimacum farmer Karen Page, an organizer of Residents for Responsible Regulation, said Thursday she is reserving judgment about the potential meeting.

“We will wait and see about who will come to this and whether we will be allowed to talk about our concerns,” Page said.

“We are hoping for a process that will allow us to speak out and not anything like the county commissioners' meetings where we are allowed to speak for three minutes and they don't listen to what we say.”

Page has criticized Jefferson County, saying regulations are lax at county commissioner meetings.

Page introduced Wednesday a draft of a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting his intervention.

The letter asks for a meeting with the federal Department of Justice official responsible for overseeing marijuana enforcement and an inquiry into Jefferson County's marijuana regulation.

“Jefferson County is approving marijuana operations in all residential zones without any public hearings or even the courtesy of notifying the public that these operations are coming into their neighborhoods,” the draft letter reads.

“[The county] should slow down and listen to the people, our efforts to make this clear. . . have so far been dismissed as the whining cries of NiMBYs (not in my back yard).”

Holder has said his office will not interfere with Washington state's and Colorado's retail marijuana legalization process but will monitor their progress.

Page said the revised letter will be sent to Holder early next week.

Page said no further meetings have been scheduled. The group plans to launch a website at www.jcr3.org.

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

Last modified: June 19. 2014 6:35PM
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