Moratorium imposed on recreational businesses in Island County

A moratorium on new recreational marijuana businesses was passed Wednesday despite residents concerns that the action would put them strategically behind other counties.

Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson voted 2-0 to approve the six-month moratorium while they take additional public comment and review potential policies and ordinances. Commissioner Kelly Emerson was absent.

The moratorium is a response to state law created last year by Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana and comes with many restrictions.

Production and distribution of medical marijuana is already legal.

Several local medical marijuana growers and prospective business people told the board during a recent public hearing they were upset about the proposed moratorium.

John Youngblood, who spoke against the moratorium at the public hearing, said Thursday that he believes the move will force businesses to set up shop in other counties.

Youngblood owns 22 acres near Strawberry Point and said he was hoping to start a growing business under the new law.

“If I get it by Jan. 1, I won’t be able to start doing anything until May,” Youngblood said. “For anyone who wants to participate … they are coming in at the end of things.”

Youngblood said the commissioner’s actions will cause businesses to start up in other counties in order to maintain a competitive edge, losing valuable tax revenue.

Youngblood said he also owns property in King County and is considering applying for a license there instead.

Price Johnson, who advocated for a moratorium shorter than six months, suggested handing the issue over to the Planning Commission with a charge to expedite the process.

“I do feel a sense of urgency in moving forward,” Price Johnson said. “There’s a perception that we’re just going to kick the can down the road.”

Many of the questions posed by local entrepreneurs were answered by county Planning Director David Wechner during Wednesday’s meeting.

Wechner said that licensed medical marijuana dispensaries can also apply for a recreational license.

Growers can produce both types of marijuana on a single property but the to operations have to be completely separate, Wechner said.

The same is true for businesses who want to process marijuana for distribution, the operations must be separate, he said.

One of the largest concerns that was voiced was whether or not the state would approve licenses in counties with moratoriums.

Wecher responded that, yes, the state will still approve licenses under a moratorium and the allotted four dispensaries slotted for Island County will not go to other counties.

Currently, the state is allowing for one dispensary in Oak Harbor and three island-wide.

Johnson, who was a proponant of the moratorium, said she thought it was important to involve the public in deciding where these businesses can exist.

“The answers to these questions make me more certain it’s the right thing to do,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about how we’re using our land and how we zone.”

“We need time to go through that public process.”


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