The Stevens County Commissioners are considering a proposal to trim down the county-wide moratorium on marijuana production and processing sites by specifying areas where grow or processing sites would not be allowed.
The Commissioners had passed a ban on the "production, processing and retail sale of marijuana" in all unincorporated areas of the county in November 2013. The county moratorium was in response to the Washington State Liquor Control board releasing rules on how to legally grow and sell recreational marijuana. Washington State legalized recreational marijuana production and sales in 2012 when voters approved Initiative 502.
The initial six month county recreational marijuana moratorium passed by the Commissioners was mirrored by cities in the county who also placed temporary bans on approving grow or retail facilities. The City of Chewelah passed a six month moratorium on accepting or processing land use applications for recreational marijuana production in November 2013. The recreational marijuana moratorium will expire May 20, 2014 and is slated for discussion at the May 7 City Council meeting.
In addition, the City of Chewelah issued a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana collective gardens within the City of Chewelah. The ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and gardens, encapsulated in Ordinance 857, states that when the Washington State Legislature acts to adopt a regulatory and enforcement system for medical marijuana uses that satisfy the enforcement priorities established by the federal government, then the City will again review the issue.
The aim of all the recreational marijuana moratoriums, based on their wording, was to give local governments time to see what the state would determine regarding recreational marijuana rules and regulations. Changes to recreational marijuana rules in the last few months seem to have validated the cautionary approach, as the state Liquor Control Board has already modified the initial rules put out in November 2013.
According to state rule changes, growers are now limited to one grower license per business entity instead of the three allowed by the first set of state rules. The Liquor Control Board also limited the production capacity of all license tiers to stay within the two million square feet threshold of ground in marijuana production in the state, as they received over 5,000 applications from potential growers.
As the county has tracked the changes to the state rules, it has also has been working to be more specific about the boundaries the county will put on the new industry.
April 14 hearing attended by many potential growers
At the April 14 recreational marijuana moratorium hearing, the Stevens County Commissioners received public comment on a new resolution that would prohibit marijuana grow and processing facilities within certain parts of the county, instead of the all-county ban currently in place.
The proposed resolution broke the recreational marijuana business down into three components: production, processing and retail.
The resolution would prohibit marijuana production and processing facilities in those areas zoned as "Urban Reserve, Cross Road Areas, Small Resort, Master Planned Resort or Fully Contained Communities."
Marijuana retail stores would be prohibited in areas zoned as "Agricultural, Forest, Mineral, Rural Area, Urban Reserve, Industrial, Rural Agriculture, Crossroad Areas, Small Resort, Master Planned Resort, Fully Contained Community or Major Industrial Development."
Jenni Anderson of the county Land Services Department said residents who are curious what these zones restrictions would look like in relation to the county can access visual data in two ways.
Those wanting to view the overall application of the proposed moratorium to the county can view maps that break the county into five sections on the Stevens County Land Services Department website: http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/landservices/ordinance_title3.php
Anderson recommended that those wanting specific information about a parcel should visit the Stevens County Assessor's website, http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/assessor/assessor.htm.
There were roughly a dozen attendees at the hearing on the new moratorium document that would take effect when approved by the commissioners and likely take the place of the current all-county moratorium that expires on May 5.
Many attendees had specific questions about building construction and sites that the Commissioners could not answer, as under the current moratorium no recreational marijuana business activity is allowed.
"The current moratorium has to be modified before potential producers can expect to have building permits processed," explained Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart.
Attendee Gene Fuller who identified himself as a "businessman" said he was "looking for certainty" from the Commissioners and wanted to know if the resolutions were just a back-door way to prohibit marijuana in the county.
"When we look at neighboring counties like Spokane and the Spokane Valley, they are passing new ordinances calling for 100 yard buffers around certain communities which destroys the ability to site a business there," he said. "What I want to know is will there be other attacks for regulatory measures from the county in the future?"
Commissioner Wes McCart said that is not the intent of the county.
"Our intent is to be very deliberate and do this as correctly as we can to prevent uncertainty on any side," said McCart. "It is not our intent to hold this up.
The Stevens County Commissioners moved to continue the hearing to Monday, April 21 at 9 a.m. No oral testimony will be accepted at the hearing, but the meeting is open to the public. For more information, call 684-3751.
Â FOR MORE INFORMATION
Readers wanting to view the overall application of the proposed recreational marijuana moratorium to the county can view maps that break the county into five sections on the Stevens County Land Services Department website: http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/landservices/ordinance_title3.php
Those wanting specific information about a parcel should visit the Stevens County Assessor's website, http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/assessor/assessor.htm.
By Jamie Henneman, The Independent Staff