County planners wrestle with pot regulations

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WALLA WALLA — Creating regulations for growing, processing and selling marijuana doesn’t promise to be easy, Walla Walla County planners were told Thursday.

At their regular meeting, planning commissioners and staff began examining how to develop zoning and development regulations for new recreational pot industry allowed under Initiative 502. Planning commissioners intend to continue the discussion at their next meeting in April.

Among issues is how different marijuana is with regard to implementing new regulations for zoning, environmental issues and other regulations, said Bill Stalzer, planning consultant with Seattle-based Stalzer and Associates.

“It’s a fairly difficult subject ... because there is not much out information out there,” Stalzer said. Jurisdictions throughout the state are grappling with how to develop regulations, with some opting to proceed under existing laws, others adopting moratoriums, still others creating interim zoning and some even enacting bans.

In areas of Walla Walla County which are zoned for agriculture, “everything is an allowed use, but nobody anticipated marijuana as a crop,” Stalzer said.

Stalzer went over the draft principles for regulation of recreational marijuana that Walla Walla County Commissioners drafted and forwarded to the Planning Commission. Planning commissioners have been charged with deciding which zones recreational marijuana uses should be located in and whether additional regulations, such as conditional use permits, should be necessary.

The guidelines call for, among other things, ensuring marijuana production and processing facilities do not jeopardize uses already allowed in agriculture or rural areas and protecting rural activity centers and residential urban growth areas.

Another issue is ensuring that recreational marijuana facilities do not “cause unmitigated impacts or otherwise encumber public services,” such as law enforcement.

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte noted the county, like others, also has to deal with the fact that although I-502 has legalized recreational pot, it remains illegal under federal law.

“We’re in the middle of trying to figure it out,” he said.

The proposed schedule for the process calls for Planning Commissioners to continue discussions and development work at their April and May meetings and then hold a public hearing to take comment in June. After follow-up work at a meeting in July, the Planning Commission’s recommendations would then be sent to county commissioners.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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