Rule change to allow Whidbey pot growers location flexibility

Marijuana growers and processors will not have to be located on a county road to be eligible for a license.

Island County Planning Director Dave Wechner speaks about “lot line” requirements in the draft regulations governing recreational marijuana businesses.

Marijuana growers and processors will not have to be located on a county road to be eligible for a license.

Island County commissioners responded to comments during Monday’s public hearing on the proposed ordinance. A handful of residents said the county road requirement would prevent them from participating in the fledgling industry.

“Most [rural] areas are on private roads, which would push them [marijuana operations] into city areas,” said resident Holly Hansen.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown has expressed to county commissioners his desire that all recreational marijuana operations be easily accessible to law enforcement and located along county roads.

Commissioners agreed that the requirement to be on a county road would be a hardship to some and directed staff to change language to allow for private road access.

However, marijuana growers and processors will be required to demonstrate accessibility either through an easement or a letter signed by all road users that it will remain open to law enforcement.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said this would put the “onus on the applicant” while still allowing them to participate.

County planning staff drafted ordinance C-40-14 in response to Initiative 502, the passage of which last year legalized recreational marijuana in the state of Washington.

The commissioners also adjusted the lot-size requirement after a couple of residents said the 250-foot minimum lot-line requirement would rule out oddly-shaped parcels. After some discussion, commissioners agreed to make the requirement an “average” of 275 feet for the minimum lot line.

Commissioner Jill Johnson pressed for a 300-foot minimum lot-line requirement to help ensure that operations are not too close to each other.

Johnson said it’s the county’s responsibility to ensure the industry does not negatively impact the 46 percent of Washington voters who did not approve I-502.

“To think that people are going to be excited to have that as a neighbor, I think, is naive,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson supported the change in the lot size, but said that over-regulating beyond the state’s requirements is “overkill.”

“When the majority speaks, the majority speaks,” Emerson said. “We need to allow it in the fashion the voters voted it in.”

Price Johnson agreed with the 300-foot requirement, as long as it was averaged. Emerson proposed 275 feet, a figure that was backed by Price Johnson.

Johnson stressed throughout the meeting her desire to protect island residents from any negative impacts associated with the industry.

“This is a new industry and a new use, and the newcomer is the industry,” Johnson said. “We need to look at the quality of life to existing neighbors and what kind of experience we want to give them to this industry.”

Price Johnson noted that illegal marijuana has already been happening on the island.

“Marijuana has been grown in Island County for a very long time,” Price Johnson said. “It’s just been done in a clandestine way. This is a way to bring it out of the shadows.

“If there are unforeseen issues that arise, we can address that.”

Because changes to the ordinance need to be reviewed by the public, commissioners agreed to extend the public hearing to 10:15 a.m. Monday, May 5.


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