PORT ANGELES — A split board of Clallam County commissioners debated the regulation of licensed recreational marijuana businesses Monday.
And while no action was taken in the spirited work session, conversation ranged from a moratorium to a waiver system.
Commissioner Mike Doherty said he favored a moratorium on state-regulated pot in the unincorporated county until staff resolves the “quality of life” issues raised by concerned neighbors.
Commissioner Jim McEntire said he opposes an outright moratorium on voter-approved Initiative 502 and favored the concept of a waiver system that would assuage neighborhood concerns.
“I don’t know what to do,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said.
“And I’ll put that on the public record.
“That will make a great quote for the newspaper: I don’t know what to do.”
Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller had asked for direction from the board about the county’s implementation of a law that 55 percent of Clallam County voters supported in the 2012 election.
“It’s going to take me some time to think about what my position is, but I don’t know what to do today,” Chapman said.
“And I doubt if anybody here in this room can emphatically state they know exactly what we should do.
“I just think we’re in no man’s land here.
“We’re in an initiative of the people, but people’s property rights, zoning — if anybody can tell me emphatically the exact thing the county should do, I’m all ears. But I don’t know.”
Roark Miller opened the 2½-hour discussion with background on the state law and the county’s response to it.
Clallam County has applied its existing zoning for the siting of recreational marijuana businesses, mostly grow operations, which require the business owner to obtain a conditional use permit through Hearings Examiner Mark Nichols.
To date, Clallam County has received 17 applications for marijuana business licenses, two of which were withdrawn.
Most of the pot entrepreneurs are attempting to locate east of Port Angeles in the urban growth area, officials said.
“Of the 15 applications, we have six approvals,” county Principal Planner Kevin LoPiccolo said.
“The remaining nine are pending.”
The marijuana law legalized the growing and processing of pot and the sale of less than 1 ounce to adults 21 and older.
The state Attorney General in January affirmed that local governments have “broad authority to regulate within their jurisdictions, and nothing in I-502 limits that authority with respect to licensed marijuana businesses.”
Marijuana business are not allowed within 1,000 feet of a school, park or other area where children congregate.
Roark Miller last month objected to the state’s decision to allow a marijuana business near the nonprofit Klahhane Gymnastics studio at 3318 E. Acorn Lane east of Port Angeles.
The state Liquor Control Board, which issues licenses for marijuana businesses, agreed, and the Hidden Bush marijuana store will open elsewhere, Roark Miller has said.
By a show of hands, about 15 citizens who attended the work session said they supported marijuana businesses.
Another dozen or so indicated opposition of a pot business in their neighborhood.
“The only thing that I would remind everyone here is that [marijuana law] was an initiative by the voters that brought that, not the government,” Roark Miller said.
“So I think if we’re going to change what we do from zoning or from a business standpoint, we want cooperation, and have that energy help us resolve this new initiative and how we’re going to apply that.
“That would be my ask of those groups: Help us find solutions.”
After Chapman opened the board session to public testimony, several speakers informally debated the merits of marijuana businesses in the county.
Port Angeles attorney Craig Miller warned commissioners that doing nothing would result in litigation, and that a legislative solution is the “best way to go.”
“I now represent three different neighborhood groups, all of whom are more than willing to take any decision on a [conditional use permit] to court,” Miller said.
“I think you really need to take some steps to avoid that.”
Doherty said Monday’s discussion was “long, long overdue.”
“To me, it’s disappointing the DCD director comes in with a very pro-argument when the citizens have mixed responses,” Doherty said.
Roark Miller cited economic development goals in the county’s comprehensive plan in her executive summary to the discussion.
“There are other, and I would argue more, provisions talking about the quality of life, those kinds of things,” Doherty said.
Doherty has proposed co-locating marijuana facilities in light industrial areas with large buffers surrounding cannabis production facilities.
“I would still favor having a moratorium,” Doherty said.
McEntire said he has “long been opposed to a moratorium” on marijuana businesses.
He cited the “ill effects” of interim controls that restricted business development in the Carlsborg Urban Growth Area.
McEntire said he would favor a set of standards with a waiver requirement that would apply in “places where political or neighborhood opposition is likely.”
“I don’t want to categorically say no or yes in any given zoning designation because some neighbors are enthusiastically for, some neighbors are enthusiastically against,” McEntire said.
“That’s an important voice on both sides of the issue.”
McEntire said a waiver system “may be an improvement” on conditional use permitting.
“I don’t object to the conditional use process, but it seems like that [waiver] would maybe shape the conversation between the owners of these prospective businesses and their neighbors in a little bit more of a positive way,” McEntire said.
“I’m trying to come up with a way to strike an appropriate balance between the property rights of a prospective business owner and the property rights of existing land holders in close proximity to each other.”
McEntire added: “I don’t want county government to be in a position where we presume to know what’s best for a neighborhood.
“That’s for the neighborhood ultimately to decide.”
________Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at ro[email protected]