County Council buys more time on marijuana businesses

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council on Wednesday decided to extend a moratorium on marijuana businesses in certain rural areas after hearing more than two hours of testimony from people in the newly legal industry and concerned neighbors.

The council voted unanimously to extend the moratorium for up to six months but could enact permanent rules in the meantime. The council is to reconsider the issue at a meeting on March 25 at 10:30 a.m., but council members do not plan to hear more testimony.

At Wednesday’s hearing, opponents repeatedly said they didn’t want to become “victims of a social experiment.” Their concerns include crime, property values, the effect on children, noise, traffic and odor.

Marijuana business people say existing rules address those concerns adequately. One supporter likened the fears of neighbors to “a monster under the bed.”

“It’s difficult trying to balance these things,” said Council Chairman Dave Somers. “But we should be able to find a way” to satisfy businesses and residents “without outright banning it.”

Voter approved Initiative 502 in 2012. The council in 2013 enacted policies for pot businesses. But after people voiced concerns, the council last October enacted a partial moratorium on new marijuana operations in some of the county’s rural areas. The moratorium consists of two emergency ordinances, one addressing recreational marijuana businesses and the other related to medical-marijuana dispensaries and gardens.

Last fall, council members wanted more time to consider issues raised by people in the unincorporated Clearview area and in so-called R-5 zones — rural areas where the county typically allows only one house per five acres.

The county is home to about 16 operating state-licensed growers of recreational pot, many of which also process the plant for sale. At least seven marijuana retailers have opened in the county.

Residents’ worries prompted the council to pass an emergency ordinance that banned growers, processors and retailers in the R-5 zone that weren’t already in business as of Oct. 1. The council enacted another measure that prohibited new medical marijuana businesses along a one-mile stretch of Highway 9 in Clearview.

Dozens of existing and would-be growers in the rural areas formed a group known as the R5 Cooperative. It brought green-clad marijuana supporters to county meetings to push back against increasing political pressure from people who don’t want to live near pot businesses.

The elected council asked county staff and the volunteer Planning Commission to make recommendations for new rules before the temporary ban expired April 1. But the two groups came up with conflicting suggestions.

After holding public hearings in December, the Planning Commission recommended that the county regulate marijuana growers and processors based on the state’s three-tiered system for different sizes of operations. It also addressed such nuisances as noise and lighting. For medical marijuana, the commission suggested the council wait for the Legislature to enact new regulations this session.

Meanwhile, county planners recommended that the council ban medical marijuana dispensaries and gardens in the Clearview area as well as recreational marijuana shops in the five-acre rural zones, at least for a while.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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