Marijuana moratorium extended another six months

It may be another year before another marijuana production or processing permit is issued — if it is at all.

San Juan County extended its moratorium on marijuana for another six months while it considers the best way to move forward with creating rules and regulations for the industry. During San Juan County Council’s regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, councilmembers Jamie Stephens, who is the chair member, and Bill Watson voted in favor of continuing the moratorium, while councilmember Rick Hughes opposed.

“I’m interested in seeing where we’re going but I still struggle with the moratorium concept. Especially since … SJC was the highest per capita in favor of legalization and I have not heard anything from anyone on San Juan in regards to this,” Hughes said. “I will not be supporting a moratorium extension today.”

On April 2, Stephens and 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.

“We have all benefited from your action to date,” Lopezian Larry Eppenbach said. “The ground is shifting and our San Juan County regulations need to anticipate the future.”

Seven Lopezians island-hopped to San Juan to give comment on a possible extension to the moratorium. More than 350 Lopez residents have coalesced into a group named Say No Lopez since the first potential marijuana farm was requested. Opponents of marijuana farms on Lopez cite a high demand for freshwater, adding strain to island groundwater resources, which are already experiencing saltwater intrusion in some locations; the need for a set-back from property lines to buffer sights and smells; intense security measures — such as lights and tall fences — being a nuisance to neighbors; increased need for law enforcement; and decreased property values.

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.

“These applications galvanized the Lopez community and brought to light the vulnerabilities we face in San Juan County by treating marijuana the same as other agricultural products and having no marijuana-specific regulations in place,” Lopezian and Say No Lopez co-founder Carol Deckelbaum said.

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.

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.

“I want to thank all the people who have sent us letters and who have participated and been part of the process,” Hughes said. “If I was in your shoes, I’d probably be — maybe I wouldn’t 100 percent agree with you — but I definitely feel where you’re coming from and don’t think it’s necessarily a bad path that you’ve asked for, or brought forward to use.”

A work plan for devising marijuana regulations was established by the San Juan County Department of Community Development, however, Director Linda Kuller noted that the department will also be working on updating the Shoreline Master Plan and the ongoing work for the comprehensive plan.

“We’re balancing quite a few different things right now,” Kuller said.

As it stands, the plan is to spend the months of October through January 2020 determining how to implement whatever plans the council decides upon and to draft an ordinance to be enacted. The department will seek a preliminary legal review of the draft regulations in February. That same month the county and public will be briefed on the draft ordinance and will provide feedback. In March, a presentation will be given to the Planning Commission.

From April to June, the Planning Commission’s recommendations will be incorporated into the draft ordinance and any related legal issues will be addressed. During this time, a State Environmental Policy Act process will be determined. The Department of Community Development will also submit a 60-day notice of intent to adopt regulations to the Washington Department of Commerce staff and the Planning Commission for hearings and deliberations.

In July, the county council will be briefed on the Planning Commission’s recommendation, and in August a public hearing will be held. Council will seek public input and deliberate on the draft ordinance in September 2020. The Department of Community Development will then incorporate the council’s comments into the draft regulations and a final legal review will commence.

In October 2020, should the timeline go according to plan, council will adopt a code amendment ordinance and the new mandate will be adopted.

“We at least have a plan of record that we’re going to try to execute on developing new and interesting regulations,” Watson said. “We’ll see how that process goes. I think that’s great and I look forward to working on the [potential] regs.”