EVERETT — After discussing rules for local marijuana businesses for nearly four hours Wednesday evening, the Snohomish County Planning Commission decided to recommended a revision of existing regulations for recreational pot — instead of banning its production and processing.
The commissioners also plan to suggest that the county wait for the state to rein in the medical side of the industry, leaving in place, for now, a temporary ban on new medical marijuana businesses in the Clearview area.
The recommendations for county zoning for marijuana operations came after commissioners heard three and a half hours of input from pot-enterprise owners and those who oppose it in their neighborhoods on Tuesday.
The Snohomish County Council tasked the volunteer commission with making recommendations to help the elected lawmakers amend the rules for marijuana in the spring. The council in November 2013 enacted policies for pot operations. But after residents voiced concerns, the council in October put a temporary halt to new marijuana operations in some of the county’s rural areas.
An emergency ordinance is in place until April 1. It bans state-licensed growers, processors and retailers in some rural areas that weren’t already in business as of Oct. 1.
After the hearing and deliberation over two nights this week, the Planning Commission decided to recommend that the County Council amend the 2013 regulations for recreational marijuana growers and processors. The panel will recommend those businesses meet certain requirements, depending on the size of a marijuana operation.
The commission also will suggest new rules regarding noise, lighting, landscape screening and a marijuana business’ compatibility with the surrounding area.
It also plans to suggest that complaints about odor be referred to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
Commissioners also decided to recommend that the county enact different regulations for each of the three sizes of pot producers, defined by the state’s licensing system.
On the medical marijuana issue, the commission is to recommend that the council wait for the Legislature to make new rules.
The county’s temporary prohibition of marijuana enterprises now applies to those in 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.
Dozens of existing and would-be growers in the rural areas recently formed a group known as the R5 Cooperative. It aims to educate neighbors and push back against increasing political pressure from people who don’t want to live near pot businesses.
Jamie Curtismith, an advocate for the R5 Cooperative, called the Planning Commission’s recommendations a victory for local pot producers, who feared an outright ban of their businesses. She conceded the industry still has work to do to quell the fears of neighbors and to provide accurate data to county decision-makers.
On the other side, Bob McGowan, a Snohomish resident who organized NOPE, a group fighting for “No Operational Pot Enterprises,” said legal marijuana is not an issue on which to compromise.
McGowan, the owner of R. Gleason Finishing in Monroe, was disappointed that the commissioners did not recommend a prohibition of recreational pot businesses. However, he said, he was glad the commission suggested waiting for the state to regulate medical marijuana.
Before the County Council makes a decision, it will hold another public hearing on marijuana businesses, but a date has not been set.