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Klickitat County: pot on hold

WHITE SALMON — Klickitat County’s moratorium on the siting of commercial marijuana enterprises in unincorporated areas of the county is now in its second week.

The County Board of Commissioners enacted the moratorium on Oct. 15 in response to the potential impacts of the state’s new recreational marijuana law that voters approved in November 2012 on areas the county is currently not equipped to regulate.

The County Board took the extraordinary measure because, as Board Chairman David Sauter put it, “We aren’t ready.” Sauter said the moratorium was “the prudent thing to do” to give the county more time to consider the effects on land use and steps to mitigate them.

Klickitat County’s land use ordinances do not contain regulations for such activities as growing, processing, and selling marijuana for public consumption — the three areas of activity that are regulated under Inititive 502. Under the moratorium, such marijuana-related activities are designated as prohibited uses.

“Once we saw what was coming out of the state in terms of regulations, we saw that we weren’t ready for it,” Sauter said, and added, “It’s the law now and we will continue to comply with it, but right now we just need more time to think about the issues and how best to address them.”

Sauter said the County Board plans to convene a workshop – as yet unscheduled – with the plan-ning department and the prosecuting attorney’s and sheriff’s offices to discuss a way forward in terms of establishing appropriate local regulations.

“Nobody’s beating down the door to get more information about our siting requirements,” Sauter noted, “so we feel we have time to do this in a thoughtful way.”

By law, the county is required to hold a public hearing 60 days after enactment of a moratorium. So, on or before Dec. 14, the county board must schedule a public hearing to take public input on the moratorium.

On Oct. 16, the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) adopted its proposed rules for the implementation of Initiative 502. The next step in the rulemaking process requires that board to adopt final rules, which are the result of 10 months of research and public input, and will serve as the basis for Washington’s newly created recreational marijuana market. The rules will become effective Nov. 16.

“Over these last several months we have put together a comprehensive system of rules which serve as the foundation for this new industry,” LCB Chairman Sharon Foster said in a news release. “This has been a very open process of rulemaking with public involvement each step of the way.”

According to the Liquor Control Board, the rules meet the agency’s stated goal of putting in place “a tightly regulated and controlled recreational marijuana market.” The board said the rules also align with the U.S. Department of Justice’s stated areas of concern by addressing out-of-state diversion of product, traceability of product from start to sale, youth access, and other public and consumer safety concerns.

The LCB plans to file an emergency rule later this month to bring state rules into alignment with federal guidelines by modifying “the way the 1,000-foot distance between marijuana locations and the listed exclusion zones is measured.” The method of measuring distance will change from “most common path of travel” to “shortest straight line” from property line to property line.

Licenses for the production, processing, and retail sale of marijuana will become available starting Nov. 18. The LCB’s Marijuana Licensing Unit has scheduled a series of seven educational seminars across the state to help potential applicants work their way through the licensing process. Potential applicants can sign up for one of the seminars online at liq.wa.gov.

The board has allotted four retail stores to Klickitat County: one in the city of Goldendale and three at-large outlets that could be sited somewhere in the county, or in White Salmon or Bingen.

The cities of White Salmon and Bingen are conducting analyses of their land use ordinances and city zoning maps within the context of the LCB’s published rules to determine where marijuana enterprises could be located and in preparation for potential applicants. The City of Goldendale also is looking at how I-502 applies from a land-use perspective.

Earlier this year, Klickitat County Port District Commissioners adopted a policy banning the lease, rental, or use of Port properties and facilities to/by marijuana businesses because marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law.

The Port wants to avoid even the potential for conflict until the differences between federal and state laws are settled as a matter of law.

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