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Moratorium Puts Hold On Siting Of Medical Marijuana Facilities In Unincorporated Areas

In Skamania County

By SVERRE BAKKE The Enterprise Skamania County officials don’t want to see their county become an untended garden for the state’s medical marijuana trade. That’s why the Board of County Commissioners adopted an ordinance that places a 6-month moratorium “on the acceptance and processing of any permit application to locate any facilities for the growing, production, processing and/or dispensing of medical marijuana prior to further study and public analysis on parcels located within unincorporated Skamania County” and “on the use of land or buildings [for such purposes]...as this is not a lawful use in any zoning classification listed in Skamania County Code, Title 21 - Zoning.” Commissioners Paul Pearce, Jim Richardson and Bob Anderson adopted the emergency ordinance during a public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16. Now, they have 60 days to schedule a public hearing on the ordinance, as required by state law. Pearce said the commissioners’ “intent is to place a moratorium on both dispensaries and community gardens,” as they are defined in an updated law that took effect July 22. Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown supports the moratorium. “With a moratorium in place, it gives us six months to meet with the planning department, local businesses, and our citizens, and figure out what typing of zoning pieces we want to put in place to mitigate the presence of community gardens,” Brown said. “We can’t do anything to stop these community gardens, but we do have the authority in the legislation to regulate where they go and how visible they are to the public.” The state’s stance toward the medical use of marijuana has been evolving since the 1990s. In 1998, Washington voters removed criminal penalties for patients who use medical marijuana for debilitating or terminal conditions. Before then, the production, sale, possession or distribution of marijuana for any use was a crime in the state. The Legislature revisited the medical marijuana issue this past legislative session and amended and clarified “the law on the medical use of cannabis” to shield qualified patients and designated providers complying with the law from “arrest or prosecution, other criminal sanctions, or civil consequences based solely on their medical use of cannabis.” Moreover, the legislation provides the framework for expanding opportunities for growing, producing, processing and dispensing medical marijuana statewide to ensure “qualifying patients have access to an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of medical quality cannabis.” The updated law allows for the siting of so-called community medical marijuana gardens under a local government’s land-use authorities. Skamania County Commissioners and law enforcement officials want to make sure they’ve had a chance to study the issues and hear from their public before considering any amendments to the county code’s land-use provisions. “The production, processing or dispensing of medical marijuana is an important public issue and the improper location of such facilities could cause serious harm to vulnerable populations, including youth,” the ordinance states in its recitals. The county plans to use time provided by the moratorium to review and establish setback criteria for medical marijuana facilities, including dispensaries and community gardens, located near religious centers, schools, bus stops and other public gathering sites, and to determine the zoning districts in which the facilities and related activities may be allowable uses, administrative review uses, conditional uses or prohibited uses. “What we’re doing with the moratorium is not uncom-mon,”Brown said. “A lot of cities and counties are using their emergency authorities to deal with this issue.” This past spring the Castle Rock City Council enacted a six-month moratorium on community medi-cal marijuana gardens in its city limits to give it time to develop appropriate regulations for the siting of such facilities. Klickitat County Commissioners have not yet taken the matter up.

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