Prospective marijuana retailers will have to wait a year before beginning operations in Columbia County.
Columbia County commissioners unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on marijuana production, processing and sales following a public hearing Wednesday.
Although recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington following voter passage of Initiative 502 last November, many local jurisdictions have enacted moratoriums to allow more time to develop zoning regulations for marijuana-related businesses.
Dwight Robanske, commission chairman, said Columbia County enacted the moratorium because the Washington Liquor Control Board has yet to issue definite regulations for marijuana retailers, making it hard for county officials to write zoning regulations or determine enforcement.
The moratorium was initially considered at the request of Sheriff Rocky Miller to give law enforcement time to determine how they would respond to legalized marijuana production.
“They’re having a hard time figuring out how to enforce the new law,” said Robanske.
About 20 residents attended Wednesday’s hearing to speak about the measure. Moratorium opponents said there is already too much government regulation, while supporters felt it was prudent to wait until the state sets guidelines.
One woman also expressed concern about being able to purchase medical marijuana, though neither the moratorium nor I-502 addressed Washington’s existing laws about legal medical marijuana.
The county’s moratorium will not affect the incorporated city of Dayton, which has not yet passed a moratorium. Dayton Mayor Craig George said the issue would be discussed at a city council meeting on Monday, Sept. 23, and that a draft resolution has been written which the council may consider.
For areas which have not issued a moratorium, applications for marijuana sellers, growers and processors will be available from the state on Oct. 16 and may be submitted beginning Nov. 16.
Robanske said the county plans to look at state regulations and re-assess in a year when the moratorium expires.
“We’ll see what the regulations are, check with the sheriff and the prosecutor and probably have a public hearing,” he said.
Rachel Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-526-8363.