The Spokane County Board of Commissioners voted late last month to continue the current interim zoning regulations for the production and processing of recreational marijuana, and to begin the process of amending the county’s permanent zoning codes.
The current interim zoning ordinance, which was adopted on May 5, will continue for another six months, says John Pederson, planning director for the county.
“That’s the last in the series of interim ordinances that the county has adopted about I-502,” Pederson says, referring to the the initiative that voters approved to legalize recreational marijuana. “Each one has become, over time, more specific and more definitive on how the county is going to regulate this new industry.”
As of July 8, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has issued 14 producer and 11 processor licenses for all of Spokane County. As of July 7, the board has issued 24 recreational marijuana retail licenses for the state, three of them in Spokane.
In accordance with the passing of the initiative, the county’s ordinance will allow the growing and processing of marijuana in the county, Pederson says.
“In addition to that, we are going to allow marijuana production in our resource lands, our rural lands, and agricultural lands in Spokane County,” Pederson says. “Basically what that does is say that marijuana is essentially like any other crop … in our rural zones.”
Although production is being allowed in the rural zones, processing marijuana in rural zones will be limited to packaging and labeling, Pederson says. Processing marijuana into oil or hash for making edibles, for example, won’t be allowed in those areas.
“If you want to process anything above packing and labeling, you can do so in our commercial and light industrial zones,” Pederson says. “For sales, you have to be, again, in our regional commercial and light industrial zoning specifications.”
The ordinance also provides specifications for buildings that house the production or processing of recreational marijuana. Structures have to be 100 feet from any front property line, unless the structure was built before the interim ordinance went into effect. Regardless of when the structure was built, it must be 50 feet from any side or rear property line, and 300 feet from any adjacent residence.
“Those distances from the primary residence can also be reduced by up to 50 percent if the adjoining property owner signs a waiver,” Pederson says.
The county also has restrictions for the size of the lot being used to grow, Pederson says. Marijuana growing operations are classified by the state in three tiers. A first-tier operation can grow up to 2,000 square feet of marijuana plants. The ordinance requires a lot size of three acres for a first-tier operation. For a tier two or three operation, which can have between 2,000 and 30,000 square feet of plants, the county requires a lot size of no less than five acres.
“While these interim ordinances are here, we’re in the process of crafting permanent ordinances,” Pederson says. “The planning commission has to go through the public planning process.”
Each time the county adopts a new interim ordinance, it must go through a public hearing within 60 days, Pederson says. It then can be either modified or affirmed without modification for a six-month period.
At the public hearings, opinions and concerns have been expressed by both supporters and opponents of allowing recreational marijuana in Spokane County. One issue was the specifications on lot size, as some operations had already purchased or invested in land before the regulations were established; the latest ordinance changed the lot size requirements to follow the three production tiers. Initially, the county required a lot size of eight acres for all tiers.
“Purchasing land doesn’t guarantee they’ve secured a license,” Pederson said. “Some had made significant investments, (however), and that was heard at the public meeting and did factor in … interim ordinances are meant to be fluid.”
Some property owners and residents of the unincorporated areas expressed concerns at the public meetings about allowing for growing and processing operations, Pederson says.
“We had quite a bit of public testimony, in regards to the whole issue of recreational marijuana,” he says. “The public input was in many different forms.”
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