Jefferson commissioners OK marijuana grow moratorium in unincorporated areas
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Jefferson County Planning Manager Stacie Hoskins, left, and Community Development Director Carl Smith present the case for a moratorium on marijuana businesses to the county commissioners on Monday. —Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners on Monday approved a moratorium on marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, setting aside six months during which the county can clarify policies that govern the production and processing of the newly legalized drug.

The action reverses the county’s policy that marijuana cultivation is a standard agricultural use and should be regulated as such.

That stance has been criticized by residents who own property adjacent to proposed marijuana grow operations.

“When this process started, we didn’t know what to expect and decided to use the county’s existing regulations,” said county Community Development Director Carl Smith.

“Since then, we have learned many things — including the fact that the [state] liquor board will not be notifying other agencies that have a significant role in permitting and applications.

“We want to work on better coordination so all agencies are notified when an application comes in.”

The moratorium, he said will allow the county to develop a policy that coordinates the various aspects of every application between all the agencies involved, such as Ecology, the county Department of Health and the state Liquor Control Board.

Community Development currently is evaluating all existing applications to determine which ones will continue and which will be affected by the new moratorium, according to Planning Manager Stacie Hoskins.

Smith estimated that “about three to five” applications will be vested, but does not have an exact count or identity.

The restriction centers on processing and production operations in rural residential neighborhoods and will not affect those in agriculture-only zoned applications, on forestlands and in light-industrial areas, according to the moratorium text.

It also does not affect any retail licenses and will not prevent the opening of Herbal Access in Port Hadlock, for which a license has already been granted.

“The majority of the applications to date have come in rural residential neighborhoods,” Smith said.

Of 27 total applications, 15 of those fall into those neighborhoods with parcels as small as 5 acres

“We don’t know this for a fact but we surmise the value of the product has made these smaller parcels viable,” Smith said.

The county policy designating marijuana as a standard agricultural product has been challenged by a citizen’s group called Residents for Responsible Regulation, whose leader Karen Page has commented on the topic at commissioners meetings for five months.

On Monday, Smith said that Page had nothing to do with the moratorium action, that the impetus came from staff who felt the regulations needed to be satisfied.

After the meeting, Page said she was extremely disappointed in timing of the moratorium.

“They waited until they vested several of the applicants before they did this,” said Page, whose neighbor is one of the businesses that have reportedly been vested.

“This is good for everyone else who follows but not for my situation.”

“We are disappointed that the county waited so long to do what should have been obvious from the beginning,” said Steve Ramsey, who accompanied Page to the meeting.

The unanimously approved moratorium by the three-member Board of Commissioners is in immediate effect and will expire Feb. 11.

A hearing will be scheduled before Oct. 11 to collect public testimony.

The date of the hearing and the opening of the public comment period that precedes it are yet to be determined.

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

Last modified: August 11. 2014 6:47PM
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