County extends retail marijuana ban in rural areas

EVERETT — Green-clad marijuana business owners faced concerned neighbors at a hearing Wednesday about two emergency measures that block new marijuana businesses in some of Snohomish County’s rural areas.

After hearing almost four hours of public testimony by 77 people, the County Council continued the prohibition of those businesses for the next six months by taking no action.

The council left intact until April 1 an emergency ordinance that bans state-licensed growers, processors and retailers seeking to operate under Initiative 502, which regulates Washington’s recreational marijuana system. It also left in place another measure that bans new collective gardens and dispensaries for medical marijuana along a one-mile stretch of Highway 9 in Clearview.

The ban on recreational pot businesses applies to those in so-called R-5 zones and in the Clearview rural commercial area, which covers about 116 acres along Highway 9. R-5 zones are rural areas where the county typically permits only one house per five acres, with some exceptions for businesses.

Outside the hearing, Andrew Strackbein said he has been working for more than a year to open a 5,000-square-foot grow operation near Monroe. Strackbein, 26, served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Army. He said opening a small business was his dream after he got out of the military.

Strackbein and his family have invested a lot of time and money in his state-licensed grow operation. He said his neighbors, including a pot-opposition group that was at the hearing, Concerned Citizens of Wagner Lake, are unfairly lumping his small farm in with large-scale growing outfits.

“It’s not right,” he said. “They’re a very concentrated minority.”

Most people in Washington voted in favor of recreational marijuana, so those businesses should be allowed to move forward, Strackbein said.

As her husband testified in the hearing, Kathy Bell, of Machias, said she’s not opposed to legal recreational marijuana, she just doesn’t want to live next door to a grow site.

“To have this kind of facility in our area is very distressing,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any commercial business in our neighborhood.”

Bell said she and her husband, Daniel, researched the area before investing in their home 14 years ago. They’re worried about increased traffic and dwindling property values if pot growers move in nearby. Opponents also cited concerns about crime and environmental damage as a result of the marijuana industry.

Supporters contend those worries are based on fear rather than fact. One proponent said “reefer-mad rhetoric” always makes for bad governance.

The council scheduled Wednesday’s public hearing to adhere to state growth laws, which require public comment after the adoption of emergency measures. Meanwhile, the county’s Planning Commission is considering what recommendations to make to elected lawmakers when it comes time to enact permanent rules for marijuana businesses. An important aspect of any regulation is how it addresses the state’s three-tiered licensing scale for different sizes of pot producers.

Planning commissioners are expected to hold hearings and to present recommendations to the County Council by next spring, before the emergency measures expire. The Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 16.

County Councilman Dave Somers said the county has long been working to strike a balance between community character and business interests.

“We’re trying to deal with this in a rational, reasonable way,” he said.

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

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