Council hears testimony on marijuana moratorium

The marijuana moratorium in San Juan County remains in effect for now. The county council was legally required to hold a hearing regarding the moratorium within 60 days of its imposition in April.

“This is not concernings new regulations, but about the moratorium,” council chairman Jamie Stephens said.

Though not specifically about what rules the county is going to decide upon, the council still heard arguments from nine Lopezians about the suspension. Both those in support of the embargo and opposed spoke.

“I think the moratorium is a much-needed tool to allow time for reasonable regulations [to be] established that all county residents can live with,” Kurt Fuller said. “I think those regulations should include but not be limited to a ban on tier 3 grow operations due to the impact on sensitive island resources.”

Fuller is one of more than 300 Lopez residents who have coalesced into a group named Say No Lopez.

Carol Deckelbaum, one of Say No Lopez’s organizers, said she wants the county to use this moratorium time to take into consideration regulations such as limiting permits to one per parcel; prohibiting all tier 3 grow operations; requiring production to be performed indoors to reduce odor; establishing setbacks to minimize impacts on neighbors; and requiring a conditional use permit.

“I’m asking you to confirm your previous conclusion that cannabis in all of its forms be considered an agricultural crop. … [I’m] asking you to not overregulate an already overregulated industry,” Denice Clark, the sole opponent of the moratorium who spoke at the meeting, said. “Farms aren’t always charming, and farms shouldn’t be regulated for neighborhood aesthetics.”

A proposed marijuana farm on Lopez prompted action from the council in the form of a moratorium in April. Two of the three council members voted to enact a six-month pause on permitting marijuana production and processing operations in the county.

Councilmember Rick Hughes opposed the moratorium, citing the effect that ceasing permitting on all marijuana production and processing operations would have on existing farms in the county. He noted during the April meeting that an Orcas farm is currently for sale and could run into permitting problems should a buyer be found, and that if any of the other operations wish to expand, they’re prohibited while the moratorium is in place.

The topic of prohibiting permits to new marijuana grow operations arose from the controversy surrounding three proposed farms on Lopez. The applicant for all three permits through the state’s marijuana licensing board is Laurent Bentitou, who owns waterfront property on Lopez Sound Road and Ceres Garden in Bellevue, Washington.

The first proposed tier 3 site was on Ferry Road and is owned by Michael and Vicky Terra of Paducah, Kentucky. This application was withdrawn by the applicant. Then, the second and third requests were made for Bentitou’s waterfront property, a smaller location, but also for both a tier 3 permit as well as a tier 2.

Tier 1 allows for up to 2,000 square feet of plant production space; tier 2 is between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet; and tier 3 is for 10,000–30,000 square feet.

“So now that the public hearing is over, the easy part of adopting a moratorium for six months is complete, and you can move on with deciding what to do when the six months are over” Joey King, deputy prosecuting attorney, said.

The current moratorium expires on Oct. 2.

“We have to do something prior to that date,” Councilmember Bill Watson concluded.