PORT ANGELES — A proposal to regulate the recreational marijuana industry in Clallam County would keep growers and processors out of most rural neighborhoods — at least for now.
The county Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended tighter restrictions on a staff-proposed, temporary ordinance that would regulate the scale and siting of pot growing operations and processing facilities in unincorporated areas.
The advisory panel was tasked with rewriting “interim zoning controls” after the six-month ordinance died for a lack of a second at the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.
All three commissioners voted to refer the proposed ordinance back to the Planning Commission.
Residents of rural areas have protested the possible placement of marijuana growing and processing operations in their neighborhoods.
Planning commissioners removed high- and medium-density rural zones from the list of places where marijuana businesses would be permitted as a conditional use.
They also extended a staff-recommended 100-foot setback to 200 feet for agricultural retention zones and very-low-density rural zones of one dwelling per 20 acres.
The Planning Commission voted 7-0 to recommend the amended ordinance to the three commissioners, who will discuss the new proposal Monday.
“We’re here to see if we can craft an interim ordinance and have at least two votes from the county commissioners,” Planning Commissioner Tom Montgomery said before the changes were made.
“It’s to get two votes, to have an interim [ordinance] that would be an improvement to the existing policy for the next six months while we work on something that we will be recommending to the commissioners as a final ordinance.”
Zoning controls are intended to provide marijuana proponents and opponents with a degree of certainty now that the voter initiative that legalized recreational pot for adults 21 and older has become reality.
To date, Clallam County has applied its current code for marijuana, requiring state-licensed growers and processors to obtain a conditional-use permit from Hearing Examiner Mark Nichols.
Interim zoning controls would impose further restrictions on pot businesses with minimum parcel sizes, setbacks and a requirement that marijuana business owners reside on the property.
Eight pending marijuana business applications will be considered by Nichols whether or not an interim ordinance is passed.
Those who have already received a conditional-use permit would not be directly impacted by the ordinance.
Commissioner Jim McEntire made the motion in Tuesday’s meeting to approve the staff-proposed ordinance.
He expressed reservations about restricting marijuana grows from large agricultural retention zones, or farms.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation is to allow grows in agricultural retention zones and very-low-density rural zones that have at least 15 acres of contiguous ownership.
Grows would still be allowed in industrial zones and most commercial zones under the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
Commissioner Mike Doherty has favored a moratorium on marijuana businesses with exceptions to assuage neighborhood concerns.
He aligned with the Planning Commission’s unanimous Sept. 17 recommendation to keep marijuana out of rural neighborhoods.
Commissioner Mike Chapman said he was prepared to vote in favor of the staff proposal until the board was flooded with overwhelming testimony against the ordinance in a 3½-hour public hearing Sept. 23.
Fifty-five percent of Clallam County residents who voted in the 2012 election supported the state initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.
The state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of licensing marijuana businesses, allotted Clallam County and its cities six retail stores, none of which has opened.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Esteb said she and Vice Chair Connie Beauvais toured a marijuana growing operation east of Port Angeles with Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller and Principal Planner Kevin LoPiccolo on Tuesday.
“It was very instructive,” Esteb said.
Planning Commissioner Robert Miller reported that he toured a Forks grow operation with city officials and county planners last week.
“It should almost be a model for the way to do it because the guy in my estimation had done a really good job,” Miller said.
Thirty people attended the Planning Commission’s work session.
“I think that some of the things that staff has incorporated in this interim ordinance are very good,” said Gail Mabbutt of Sequim.
“They are seeing that different levels of grow ops may need different types of regulation. However, I would tend to believe that in my own opinion, R1 and R5 [rural zones] should just not be included for any grow operation because it is a residential area, and it is interfering with people’s lives.”
At the end of the meeting, Ron Browning of Port Angeles questioned the legality of the state initiative because of its conflict with federal law.
“It is illegal to produce and sell marijuana in the United States of America,” Browning said.
“So this is an illegal hearing. I think you’ve done the best job you can do under the situation. Small children will die on the roads because you’re pushing this . . . out there on the roads.”
________Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at [email protected]