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Island County pot moratorium passes 2-0
A moratorium on new recreational marijuana businesses was passed Wednesday despite residents’ concerns that the action would put them strategically behind other counties.
Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson voted 2-0 to approve the six-month moratorium while they take additional public comment and review potential policies and ordinances. Commissioner Kelly Emerson was absent.
The moratorium is in response to the passage of the state law created last year by I-502 which legalized recreational marijuana and comes with many restrictions. The production and distribution of medical marijuana is already legal.
Several local medical marijuana growers and prospective business people told the board during a recent public hearing they were upset about the proposed moratorium.
Jon Youngblood, who spoke against the moratorium at the public hearing, said Thursday that he still believes the move will force businesses to set up shop in other counties. Youngblood owns 22 acres near Strawberry Point and was hoping to start a growing business under the new law.
“If I get it by Jan. 1, I won’t be able to start doing anything until May,” Youngblood said. “For anyone who wants to participate … they are coming in at the end of things.”
Youngblood said the commissioners’ actions will cause businesses to start in other counties in order to keep a competitive edge. The result will be a loss of valuable tax revenue, he added. He also owns property in King County and is considering applying for a license there instead.
Price Johnson, who has advocated for shortening the six-month moratorium, suggested they hand the issue over to the planning commission with a charge to expedite the process.
“I do feel a sense of urgency in moving forward,” Price Johnson said. “There’s a perception that we’re just going to kick the can down the road.”
Many of the questions posed by local entrepreneurs were answered by Planning Director David Wechner at Wednesday’s meeting. Wechner said that licensed medical marijuana dispensaries can also apply for a recreational license. Growers can produce both types of marijuana on a single property but the operations must be completely separate, Wechner said. The same is true for businesses that want to process marijuana for distribution — the operations must be separate.
One of the largest concerns that was voiced was whether or not the state would approve licenses in counties with moratoriums. Wechner said he believes the state will do so and the allotted four dispensaries slotted for Island County will not go to other counties. Currently, the state is allowing for one dispensary in Oak Harbor and three county-wide.
Johnson, who has been a proponent of the moratorium, felt it was important to involve the public in deciding where these businesses can exist.
“The answers to these questions make me more certain it’s the right thing to do,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about how we’re using our land and how we zone. We need time to go through that public process.”