County considers marijuana grow options

San Juan County is still working toward drafting regulations for marijuana production and processing in the islands.

On Dec. 3, Community Development Planning Manager Linda Kuller presented two options to the council for consideration.

“The public has tons of concerns,” Kuller said. “They’ve been very vocal about it. They’re concerned about their property values, the aesthetics — particularly with some of the state requirements for fencing and walls.”

On April 2, council members Jamie Stephens and Bill Watson voted to temporarily enact a six-month pause on permitting marijuana production and processing operations in the county while the county council established rules and regulations over the process. The first six-month moratorium lasted until Oct. 2; this extension is in effect until April 2, 2020.

Option one is based on Skagit County’s marijuana regulations. It would prohibit growing in greenhouses or translucent structures; restrict indoor production and processing in activity centers to commercial and industrial land use designations with no land use permit; allow indoor production in rural general, industrial, commercial and island center; and in Eastsound, it would allow indoor production and processing in service light industrial, service park and Country Corner commercial zones.

“The first option, I think, solves a lot of public concerns with outdoor production and it’s similar to Skagit County,” Kuller said. “This takes care of a lot of concerns in the rural and the resource lands, I think, if we were to restrict marijuana growing outdoors.”

Option two would provide more variation. It would allow Tier 1 and Tier 2 outdoor production in agricultural resource and rural farm forest; restrict production in greenhouses to Tiers 1 and 2 to limit conversion of large areas of agricultural land to non-agricultural use; allow outdoor and indoor production and processing commercial and industrial designations except village and Hamlet Commercial with lot size and permit requirements; require conditional use permits in Eastsound designations for outdoor production (service light industrial, service park and Country Corner). Tier 1 and 2 outdoor production would be allowed in agricultural resource and rural farm-forest designated areas on the islands. 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.

The department plans to have a draft ordinance in front of the council by February. Kuller said she hopes to have regulations ready for adoption by September. A renewal of the moratorium would be necessary in April.

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 a cannabis farm named 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 for a tier 3 permit as well as a tier 2.

“Whenever [outdoor production is] proposed in the county people are really against it,” Kuller said.

County Council Chairperson Stephens, of Lopez, noted that San Juan County has “very little” rural general use and that this option would essentially only allow production on areas of Lopez Island where it would be prohibited for other reasons — such as proximity to the school and churches.

“I understand the concept but I think we need to look at some of the practicality of this also,” he said.

Councilmember Rick Hughes of Orcas said he has heard no complaints from Orcas residents regarding the two grow operations on the island — one of which is indoors.

“Would the same rules apply under these scenarios under hemp? I think that we need to be real careful where we go,” Hughes said. “I want to make sure that we’re regulating something because of what it is not because of what we’re afraid it is.”

For more information on the moratorium and the regulations the county is considering, visit