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WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla County Monday became the latest local government in Washington state to enact a marijuana moratorium.
The action puts a one-year hold on adoption of regulations to grow, process or sell pot in unincorporated county areas. Commissioners Perry Dozier, Greg Tompkins and Jim Johnson unanimously approved the measure.
Around the region
Along with Walla Walla County, the city of Waitsburg has also adopted a moratorium and the College Place City Council has directed staff to draft an ordinance to enact a moratorium in that city.
Columbia County will hold a public hearing on a moratorium at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The cities of Walla Walla, Prescott and Dayton have taken no action on the issue at this time. Garfield County also has taken no action, but the sheriff, prosecuting attorney and county commissioners have been discussing the issue.
In other areas, according to the Tri-City Herald, the city of Pasco and Franklin County have both adopted moratoriums, while the cities of Kennewick, Richland and West Richland have discussed them. Benton County is not currently considering a moratorium for unincorporated areas outside of Kennewick, Richland and West Richland.
Although voters last year approved making recreational use of marijuana legal in Washington, growing, selling and processing the drug remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Along with Washington’s Initiative 502, Colorado voters also approved a similar initiative, Amendment 64, to legalize pot. Neither initiative addressed medical marijuana.
Under I-502, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will be in charge of licensing and regulation of the state’s fledgling marijuana industry. But cities and counties are wrestling with how they will draw up zoning regulations and development permits for growers, developers and sellers. Some areas, such as Seattle, are moving to enact new laws while others are opting for moratoriums due to concerns over federal prosecution and other issues.
At Monday’s meeting, commissioners resumed a hearing which had been continued from Sept. 3 to allow people to submit written testimony and give Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte, the commissioners’ legal counsel, time to continue work on the draft of a moratorium.
Nolte told commissioners that while the moratorium is in effect, the county will need to develop a work plan to determine what rules will govern where marijuana operations will be located and how they will be permitted. The county’s regulations will not affect incorporated areas such as Walla Walla, College Place and Waitsburg, which will be governed by their own rules.
Before closing the hearing, commissioners took additional comments from two people. They also received one written comment from a Walla Walla resident.
Waitsburg resident Debra Callahan, who also spoke at the earlier hearing, told commissioners she is “for this moratorium wholeheartedly because we need to give this some thought.” She urged commissioners to arrange a meeting with her and others who are medicinal marijuana users “to talk about how we can meet the needs of the medical (marijuana) community.”
A second woman also voiced support for a moratorium, saying she would like to ensure there is no mixing of rules for medical and recreational marijuana.
“The commingling of these (rules) concerns me because they are two different things” which need to be kept entirely separate.
Before voting, Dozier said he is struggling with the issue of the county providing a public access point for the drug on one hand while simultaneously taxing people to fund substance abuse treatment for problems it might cause.
“It seems like an oxymoron to me,” he said. “We need to have a substantial discussion before we create a situation” that will affect people, especially young people.
Tompkins said his concern was limiting the county’s liability from federal or other legal actions.
“I just have to make sure it’s right. I have to protect all the taxpayers,” he said.
Johnson said the moratorium will allow the county to address the issues on its own terms as opposed responding to state or federal mandates. “We have a unique opportunity to do something for ourselves,” he said. “I just think the prudent thing to do is declare the moratorium.”
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.