Growing opposition to the legal marijuana industry in Spokane County put a routine vote on zoning codes in jeopardy Thursday and left the door open for a moratorium on new pot businesses.
A volunteer board of citizens voted 4-2 Thursday to pass along a proposed set of zoning codes that essentially maintains the status quo of the marijuana industry in the county. The laws would allow pot growing to continue in many rural-zoned areas of the county, require 300 feet between the crop and an adjacent owner’s home, and limit processing to industrial areas.
Yet several who voted in favor of the laws said it would be a good idea to cap businesses at their current levels and study the public health and safety concerns brought to them by citizens.
“I certainly would like to see (the Board of County Commissioners) consider a moratorium,” Planning Commission member Joyce MacNamee said.
Commissioners will discuss the issue at a public hearing next week.
Commissioner Al French said he’d wait to see the recommendations before deciding whether to support the zoning laws. He is working with air quality officials regarding neighbor complaints about odors from outdoor growing operations.
While the volunteer planning commission did not vote to request a moratorium, one could be introduced for a vote this month.
Planning Commission Chairman Mike Cummings raised the possibility of putting a stop to new marijuana businesses. His recommendation went further than a measure approved by the Spokane Valley City Council on Monday night.
Cummings suggested putting a stop to all marijuana businesses, including those recreational operations licensed through the Washington state Liquor Control Board, while the Spokane Valley measure only covers medicinal dispensaries and private vapor lounges outside the recreational market.
“I’m concerned, just generally, more from a philosophical point of view than anything else,” said Cummings, adding that he worked professionally many years in marijuana prevention education for children.
Cummings voted in favor of extending the zoning laws, though he said he did so to protect the investment of those who have started working toward setting up a marijuana business.
Planning Commission member Alene Lindstrand said the commission had a legal duty to consider the health effects of its zoning decisions, though she respected a person’s right to do as they please on their private property. She said marijuana businesses should be treated in accordance with the health effects she said the drug has, which is evidenced by the strict tax structure and regulations on advertising and location.
“If we’re going to use an objective definition, being treated fairly is not being treated as everyone else when there is a different quality to a product,” she said.
Kevin Oliver, who owns a marijuana grow operation and is executive director of the state’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, applauded when the panel approved the marijuana zoning. He called the efforts by Lindstrand to slow down the process “fear mongering,” saying her arguments about the public health effects were not based in scientific fact.
Commissioner Stephen Pohl said much of the discussion on the topic Thursday had to do with the morality of legalizing the drug, a question he said had already been answered by voters: Fifty-two percent of Spokane voters in 2012 cast a ballot in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Pohl said the commission should approve the zoning codes and allow the Board of County Commissioners to legislate on a potential moratorium.
The legality of a moratorium would be uncertain, French said later Thursday. Several cities and counties in Washington have passed ordinances banning the sale of marijuana, a practice the state attorney general said is within their legal rights. But legal challenges remain undecided in trial courtrooms statewide.
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