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Yakima County prepares to shut down marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas

UPDATED: Tue., March 5, 2019

By Phil Ferolito Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – Yakima County is taking legal action to shut down more than 20 banned recreational marijuana businesses operating in unincorporated areas of the county.

County officials gave the businesses until March 1 to cease operations or be shut down by force. On Monday, county authorities were preparing legal complaints seeking warrants to enter those businesses and shut them down, said Don Anderson, who heads the county’s civil division.

“We’re in the middle of drafting those now,” he said Monday afternoon.

In November, the county sent those businesses cease-and-desist notices with a Friday, March 1, deadline to close or be shut down by county authorities.

Anderson said the county received a couple letters from marijuana businesses asking for more time, but none saying they would comply with the deadline.

“We’ll just head to court,” Anderson said. “There’s no change in what we planned to do.”

The issue stems from the 2012 voter-approved Initiative 502 that legalized recreational marijuana and established a market for it. The initiative left it up to local communities to decide whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses such as retails shops and growers and processors.

In 2014, Yakima County commissioners approved a ban on such businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, saying it was the will of the people. Yakima County voters rejected the initiative despite statewide approval.

Despite the ban, many recreational pot businesses began cropping up. Many of those businesses were low-key operations providing marijuana solely for medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana providers were regulated under a separate market and operated without any interference by the county. That changed in July 2016, when the state moved regulation of medicinal marijuana operations into the broader recreational market. The move landed those businesses in conflict with the ban.

Then the county ramped up its code enforcement department – increasing its annual budget by $200,000 to target marijuana businesses alone – and successfully shut down a retail pot shop in the Gleed area.

The county also moved to shut down Sticky Budz, a Lower Valley grower-processor outside Zillah.

A Kittitas County judge ruled that Yakima County was within its legal authority to enforce the ban.

Sticky Budz is appealing the ruling, and enforcement action won’t be taken until the appeal is complete, Anderson said.

In the meantime, Anderson said, the county is seeking immediate action against the other 20 businesses.

Anderson said he hopes an order allowing the county to remove recreational marijuana businesses will prompt them to close their doors.

If not, they would have to reimburse the county for the cost of removing crops and any unpermitted structures on their property.

“Presumably nobody wants to see that happen, so we’ll see what happens once they’ve got complaints in their hands,” Anderson said.

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