It appeared that recreational marijuana would be banned in Island County for a brief period at Monday’s county commissioner meeting.
The board was considering approval of its new pot ordinance, which eventually passed 2-1.
But during prior discussion Commissioner Kelly Emerson announced a surprising reversal and called for a ban on marijuana in the county. Commissioner Jill Johnson quickly seconded the motion.
“I’m just aghast,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who has pressed for a speedy process since a moratorium was placed on recreational marijuana last year.
“I can’t believe we’ve come down this road and you’re just now saying that we should ban this — I think it’s poor form. I do think we have an obligation to do what we said we would do.”
Emerson said that her original stance was just to incorporate the state law with no additional restrictions.
Given the concern of local law enforcement about crime and the difficulty of regulation, however, Emerson said she decided to change tack.
“Law enforcement is very concerned about the impact it’s going to have on them,” Emerson said. Plus, she said, the island is an “isolated geographic area” where the problem might be “exacerbated.”
Emerson also cited an opinion issued by the state Attorney General earlier this year that local jurisdictions have the option to ban recreational marijuana.
“We have the opportunity to ban should we so desire,” Emerson said. “It’s something I have considered, I think it’s something we need to consider very strongly. I would offer an amendment that we scratch it.”
Price Johnson held her position in favor of approval of the recreational marijuana ordinance.
“I am not in favor of banning,” Price Johnson said. “I think we’ve done a lot of public outreach and work to create an ordinance that will strike a balance in our community and implement the law of the state of Washington. I don’t agree with your position, but I disagree even less with your process or lack of process … or transparency.”
William Bradsure of North Whidbey was one of a handful of prospective marijuana growers present who were shocked at the reversal.
“I just invested $200,000 in taking a property off the market that has been there for 1,500 days, now you’re telling me you’re banning? Thank you,” Bradsure said.
“I’ve been following this for quite some time, I’ve never heard the word ban ever mentioned anywhere,” said Rockie Eggebrecht. “I’m am very frustrated to hear that word at this late date. It’s been approved by the state already, I’ve just been waiting for you guys to finish so we can move forward. To hear that word this morning really, really irks me.”
After public comment, Price Johnson made a motion to approve the ordinance, which was shortly followed by a motion from Emerson in favor of a marijuana ban.
Commissioner Johnson said she was torn on the issue.
“As the person who is about to make this decision because you two are on opposite sides of things, I was hoping we could talk it though first,” Johnson said. “Since we’re all moving in our different directions … I’m gonna refuse to second either motion right now and that way I can have a moment of discussion, which is … I’m a little sick to my stomach right now.”
Johnson said she has been hesitant about approving recreational marijuana in Island County from the beginning and has repeatedly been outvoted by the other two commissioners.
“During work session I expressed a clear interest in not getting involved in marijuana from the beginning, and I am very concerned about the very things Commissioner Emerson is talking about,” Johnson said. “If we were gonna say ‘no’ we should have said ‘no’ at the beginning. It’s so hard to sit here in a situation where I can have exactly what I want and we set the public up. … I’m not prepared to vote today.”
Johnson became emotional and requested a brief recess.
Upon returning, Price Johnson repeated her motion for approval which was immediately seconded by Johnson.
“I have concerns and I remain concerned and every part of me personally feels this is a bad idea,” Johnson said. “But there is one value that I’m going to hold higher ,which is I’m committed to being part of a very transparent government. One who walks people through its processes. One that raises concerns along the way so when you reach the finish line of a race people know how we got there.”
The ordinance was approved 2-1, with Emerson dissenting.