As Lewis County discusses lifting its de-facto ban on marijuana facilities — which only applies to unincorporated areas — issues of land use and waste disposal have risen to the surface.
In a conversation Monday, Community Development Director Lee Napier discussed how the county’s land zoning would force many business owners to go through a special use permit process, convince a hearing examiner and walk through the State Environmental Policy Act process (SEPA).
“It seems like you’d have to jump through some hoops in order to actually be a seller or grower,” County Commissioner Sean Swope said. “It’d be regulated really well from how all this is defined.”
Regarding zoning, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock brought up concerns of allowing certain types of marijuana facilities in rural areas, citing concerns of preserving land for agricultural purposes.
Given the zoning concerns, county commissioners will likely take the long way to enacting an ordinance — if they do at all — addressing questions of land-use zoning before simply lifting the moratorium.
Sheriff Rob Snaza said his main concern is how the county will enforce codes regarding waste, like how processing facilities dispose of byproducts.
“I know we heard some horror stories from other counties of the waste product just being thrown in various places,” he said.
Snaza suggested that the county reach out to the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) for guidance. He also noted that lifting the moratorium won’t stop illegal grow operations that the sheriff’s office responds to “on a routine basis,” some of which have up to 50 plants.
Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Eisenberg told commissioners that those individuals will have incentive to sell to other states with marijuana prohibitions regardless of the county’s ordinance. Currently, many of those illegal grows target the market in New York, he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Gary Stamper didn’t say whether he would support a new ordinance at all.
While Snaza called the move “inevitable” and Swope — who suggested the moratorium be lifted — has expressed frustration that the county is losing out on revenue, Stamper offered a different stance.
“Most of my area is unincorporated Lewis County, and there’s large population areas there, so we need to make sure we do a very good job of just seeing what the opinion is of some of these folks,” he said. “... because that’s going to drive my decision of whether I support this.”
Stamper, whose district includes most of East Lewis County, including a substantial amount of unincorporated areas, pointed to the federal government’s current criminalization of the drug, and cast doubt on whether a new local ordinance would mean more revenue for Lewis County.
“If we’re looking at this as a magic bullet for tons of revenue for Lewis County, it’s probably not going to happen,” he said.
Similarly, Eisenberg said he doubted an ordinance would prompt a wave of businesses to enter the county, especially since the LCB is not currently accepting applications for new retail or producer licenses.