PORT ANGELES — Like it or not, recreational marijuana is here to stay.
And Clallam County Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller says it’s time to welcome pot entrepreneurs into the established business community.
“They’re going to be a part of us, whether we want them or not,” Roark Miller told about 40 people at the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting Tuesday.
“I would like to see that we welcome them, that we extend a hand to them . . . because they’re a business that wants to succeed.”
Roark Miller, the nation’s only elected community development director, discussed the county’s marijuana policy under state Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana, at the organization’s weekly breakfast meeting.
The 2012 voter initiative legalized the growing, processing and sale of less than 1 ounce of marijuana to adults 21 and older.
Fifty-five percent of Clallam County citizens who voted in that election supported the legalization of recreational marijuana. The state Liquor Control Board is in charge of regulating the new law.
Roark Miller compared the legalization of recreational marijuana to the introduction of lavender to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley about 20 years ago.
Lavender was a “big issue for Sequim” in those days because it brought traffic, dust, odors and lawsuits, Roark Miller said.
“As humans, we’re very reluctant to change,” she said.
“This is an adjustment. It was an adjustment 19 years ago, and it’s going to be an adjustment, hopefully, in 19 more years when another industry comes in.”
Since recreational marijuana became legal, Clallam County has applied its existing zoning to marijuana businesses.
The three commissioners have opposed an outright moratorium on such businesses.
Because of neighborhood concerns, county officials have urged prospective pot growers and sellers to set up shop in industrial zones.
“I understand that people don’t want them in the rural landscape,” Roark Miller said Tuesday.
Those who wish to open a marijuana business in a rural area must first obtain a conditional-use permit through the Clallam County hearings examiner.
“So far, through the conditional-use permit process, we’ve had 14 come through,” Roark Miller said.
County Hearings Examiner Mark Nichols has limited discretion in siting a marijuana business, Roark Miller said.
“It’s not a matter of fairness when it comes to the hearing examiner,” she said.
“The difference between a judicial process with the judges upstairs is they can look at fairness and ‘Is it fair?’ The hearing examiner looks at the laws and ‘Is it legal?’ So that’s the process by which we’re processing, currently, the conditional-use permit for a proposal for a marijuana grower or producer.”
Earlier this month, Commissioners Mike Chapman and Mike Doherty said they would support an interim ordinance to control the placement of marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas.
Commissioner Jim McEntire said he would “reserve judgment” on interim controls.
The state attorney general in January said local governments have broad authority to regulate marijuana within their jurisdictions.
Roark Miller, who is running this year for a second four-year term against challenger Mary Ellen Winborn, said there are no indications from the state Legislature that the marijuana law will be amended at the state level.
As with lavender, the abundant sunshine in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley will give marijuana producers a competitive edge over Seattle-area growers who use natural light, Roark Miller said.
“You have a larger carbon footprint if you do all indoor grows,” she said.
“It’s compared to an aluminum smelter — a lot of wattage, a lot of overhead, a lot of cost, a large carbon footprint to grow all indoors.”
State law prohibits marijuana businesses from setting up within 1,000 feet of a school, park or other areas where children congregate.
Roark Miller and other county officials objected last month to the state’s decision to allow a pot shop near the nonprofit Klahhane Gymnastics studio at 3318 E. Acorn Lane east of Port Angeles.
The liquor board ultimately agreed, and the Hidden Bush marijuana store will open at another location.
Marijuana growers, processors and retailers are “passionate about their business,” Roark Miller said.
Most will go out of their way to be good neighbors and will be involved with schools, Little Leagues and volunteer groups, she added.
“I would like to applaud those that are in the forefront,” Roark Miller said of the marijuana entrepreneurs.
“It’s not easy being a target. It’s not easy to be out front and have new ideas. Sometimes they’re laughed at. Sometimes people think you’re not going to succeed. . .
“But they’re here to stay because the voters, you voters, passed the initiative to have recreational marijuana be a part of our lives now.”
________Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at [email protected]