Clark County marijuana rules may wait until January

Uncertainty about how federal government will react prompts caution

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Residents wondering where recreational marijuana can be grown, processed and procured in Clark County may have to wait until January for answers.

At a county work session Wednesday, Clark County commissioners received preliminary information on the effects of Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure that allows Washington residents over the age of 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana.

The state intends to issue licenses on Dec. 1 of this year to folks looking to grow, process and sell the newly legal drug.

Clark County, however, issued a six-month moratorium on the new industry on Aug. 13 as it plans for how to zone the new businesses.

"We still have this dilemma, or this contradiction, or this problem that marijuana is illegal under federal law," the county's senior policy analyst, Axel Swanson, told commissioners. Swanson added that his understanding is the federal government still believes there could be legal "consequences" to agencies that assist in establishing an illicit activity under federal law.

"(County employees) could be subject to arrest and prosecution by the federal government (if they permit it)," Commissioner Tom Mielke said. "That's our concern here."

The balance between state and federal law has been a guiding light for commissioners in determining county zoning law on marijuana.

In July, the commissioners voted 2-1 to issue a one-year ban on zoning for collective medical marijuana gardens -- a separate state law that allows for medical marijuana growers to pool resources and establish gardens where as many as 10 patients can grow up to 45 plants.

Mielke voted in favor of the ban, along with Commissioner David Madore. Commissioner Steve Stuart voted against the ban.

The county's goal is to establish a more robust policy on medical marijuana in the coming year, but the principles Madore and Mielke both cited for banning the gardens at all were the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

On the recreational side, the commissioners face a similar decision: Will they zone for marijuana?

The state already intends to forbid the businesses within 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child care centers, public parks, transit centers, libraries and arcades.

The county's plan for now is to establish a work group to discuss the ramifications of county zoning.

Those findings will be presented to commissioners at a work session meeting in November. A public hearing on the matter is tentatively planned for January, where commissioners will have the opportunity to reach a decision before the moratorium comes to an end.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com