Island County offers first look at pot regulations

A proposed Island County ordinance would regulate the appearance of marjuana-related businesses and their land to ensure they don’t “disrupt the character” of surrounding areas.

The draft ordinance was released by county staff this week to be reviewed by Island County commissioners and the public.

Planning Director David Wechner told commissioners Wednesday that the county is likely to see most of the production and processing applications fall in agricultural zones, while limiting retail to commercial or industrial zones.

Only buildings or land approved by the county will be allowed to conduct marijuana businesses, but where these locations will be or how they will be determined is still up for discussion.

Commissioner Jill Johnson stressed the need to get the community involved because it is uncertain what type of effect these businesses will have on their neighbors.

“This could be you if you don’t speak up,” Johnson said. “It remains to be seen the type of behavior we’re going to see.

“There are consequences we don’t know yet.”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson expressed cautious support for the ordinance, pending community input, but she has stated previously a desire to expedite the process. Commissioner Kelly Emerson said she was concerned that overly strict regulations may translate into additional costs for the county.

Wechner said he anticipates that most producers will operate indoors. But in the case of outdoor growers, the area must be screened with an eight-foot fence and set back from property lines no less than 30 feet.

For all operation types, parking must be contained on site, security measures must be in place and residential properties are not eligible for application.

The ordinance singles out Ebey’s National Historical Reserve, stating that only the smallest tier of operations — 2,000 square feet or less — will be allowed to farm within the reserve. Processing and retail will not be allowed on the reserve.

The county issued a six-month moratorium on new recreational and medical marijuana businesses in November after the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana production and distribution.

The state accepted a first round of applications for marijuana business licenses Nov. 18 to Dec. 20.

A total of 30 applications were made by potential producers, 20 applications for processing and nine applications for retail stores in Island County.

Residents can visit the state Liquor Control Board’s website to view applicants if they are interested in knowing if a neighboring property has applied, Wechner said. The state’s quota for the number of retail pot shops in Island County is four, with one allotted for Oak Harbor and the rest allowable in the county at-large.

Oak Harbor City Council adopted its own regulations on recreational marijuana businesses earlier this month following its own moratorium last year.

The new ordinance, which goes into effect this month, doesn’t have any foreseeable effect since nobody has applied to the state for a pot license within the city limits.

The council also voted to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses for an additional six months while the state looks at combining the recreational and medical marijuana laws.

Under the city’s draft, retail stores are limited to commercial and industrial zones, while growing and processing businesses are segregated to industrial and planned industrial park zones.

Wechner said the ordinance will now go to the planning commission for review and public hearing, after which it will return to the board of commissioners for additional review and a second public hearing.

A tentative adoption date is set for Apr. 7.


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