County imposes emergency moratorium on marijuana business licenses

Published on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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If you’ve been chomping at the bit to sell or grow marijuana, you’re going to have to cool your heels a little while longer.

In an unexpected move at Whatcom County Council on February 11, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws presented an emergency ordinance to the council that placed an immediate moratorium on any new applications for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in the county.

The 60-day moratorium, which was passed in a 7–0 unanimous vote by council, took effect immediately and applies only to the unincorporated county and includes medical marijuana operations; proposed marijuana businesses in cities are not affected.

Council members revisited the county marijuana regulations after the state attorney general issued an opinion stating that counties could impose stricter limits or bans on marijuana-related businesses related to Initiative 502.

The moratorium will allow time for planning and development staff, along with the sheriff’s office and prosecuting attorney’s office, to produce an interim ordinance that will better manage the influx of new businesses and their potential vulnerabilities for council’s review and approval. 

If an interim ordinance is not completed during the 60-day period, the emergency moratorium could be extended. 

The emergency moratorium, introduced by Louws at Tuesday’s meeting, highlighted the threat of increased crime because of such growing and retail operations. 

“Marijuana-related operations are vulnerable to robbery and crimes of violence, as evidenced by the actual robberies and violence that have occurred at state legal marijuana medical sites within Whatcom County and elsewhere,” the ordinance said.

The current requirements for locating a proposed marijuana facility do not specifically address the potential risks that these operations pose for surrounding residences, including those residences within isolated communities with limited police protection;” and “It is necessary to have this moratorium take effect immediately in order to prevent future applications for marijuana producers, processors and retailers from vesting under current laws and thus subverting the purpose of additional regulations to protect the public,” the ordinance said. 

Whatcom County began receiving notifications of proposed marijuana facilities from the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) in mid-December, 2013, and has been informed by the LCB that they anticipate issuing marijuana producer, processor and retail licenses to qualified applicants as early as late February or March.

Once an interim ordinance is approved, a final ordinance will be drafted for consideration of the planning commission and county council and must be adopted within six months.

A full copy of the ordinance can be obtained from the Whatcom County Council office; and will be available on the county’s website once it has been fully executed.

For more information contact Louws at 360/676-6717.