Clallam County commissioners take another look at pot rules in rural areas

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County will take a second look at how it regulates marijuana businesses.

Two of the three county commissioners said Monday they would support an interim ordinance to control the siting of new growing operations and pot shops in unincorporated areas.

Since marijuana became legal under Initiative 502, Clallam County has applied existing zoning for marijuana producers and retailers.

“If you’re going to be moving forward [with an interim ordinance], you’re saying you probably be wanting to be more restrictive than what we’re doing now,” County Planning Manager Steve Gray told commissioners.

County lawmakers have opposed an outright moratorium on legal marijuana businesses.

Under rules established this spring, Clallam County requires growers and processors who want to site facilities in non industrial-zoned land to obtain conditional-use permits.

At least three such permits have been processed to date, Gray said.

Retail pot shops are allowed without a permit in commercial properties just like any other legal business.

After Monday’s commissioners’ work session, Gray said an interim control on marijuana would mainly apply to grow ops in rural areas, which have drawn citizen complaints.

“I think the main issue — and why its back on the agenda — is a number of operations are going in rural areas,” Gray said.

“I think the next step will be to gather more information and to schedule a future work session.”

The details of the marijuana-specific zoning would be debated in a public hearing.

“We’ve all kind of had these discussions in silos,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said.

“We haven’t had a collective public discussion.”

Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller polled each commissioner about interim controls during the three-hour work session.

“It’s a large quality of life issue to people, and if their piece of ground and house is most of their investment of their fortune — life savings — it becomes a big deal,” Commissioner Mike Doherty said.

“And we’re just not out front.”

Doherty said there are “valid concerns” in certain neighborhoods about the effect of marijuana on security and property values.

He requested a memo from staff that explains what other counties and cities have done in response to Initiative 502, which 55 percent of voting Clallam County residents supported.

Chapman, too, said he would favor interim controls.

Part of his reasoning was because the state Liquor Control Board approved the siting of the Hidden Bush marijuana store at 2840 E. U.S. Highway 101, near the Klahhane Gymnastic Studio.

State law prohibits pot shops from operating within 1,000 feet of a school, park or other areas where children congregate.

State officials ruled July 14 that the gymnastics studio did not fit the definition of a recreation center.

Roark Miller has since requested that the state conduct a hearing to consider reversing its decision.

“They’re forcing us to do something,” Chapman said.

“Initially, I was hoping we wouldn’t have to do that.”

Commissioner Jim McEntire said he would “reserve judgment” on interim pot controls.

“I have many different thoughts, but the interim control question hinges to me on how many non-vested applications for either grows or retail outlets that we can expect,” McEntire said.

McEntire suggested that the Community Development Department and Planning Commission treat marijuana in “normal order.”

While some neighbors have legitimate concerns over marijuana, others support pot businesses, ­McEntire said.

“I have always been a little skeptical of wanting to jump into this thing too quickly and getting it wrong,” he told Roark Miller.

“I’d be willing to consider an interim control ordinance, if you think that’s advisable.”

The Hidden Bush was one of three shops drawn in a lottery for first consideration in unincorporated Clallam County.

Also drawn were High Grade Organics, 100 LaPush Road, Suite 602, Forks; and Weed-R-Us, 2941 E. U.S. Highway 101, Port Angeles.

Two more licenses are allowed for shops in Port Angeles and one more in Sequim, which has a moratorium.

Jefferson County was allowed four licenses for retail stores: one in Port Townsend and three anywhere else.

So far, the only North Olympic Peninsula pot shop to open its doors to adults 21 and older is Sea Change Cannabis in Discovery Bay.

A lack of available product has limited the ability of Sea Change and many other pot shops in the state to keep regular hours.

“My understanding is that the Liquor Control Board is not taking any new permit applications at this time,” Gray told the board.

“I don’t even know if they will reopen it next year based on the number of applicants they got.”

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Reporter Joe Smillie contributed to this report.

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at [email protected]

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