Local jurisdictions may rethink views on pot

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Local Clark County governments have pressed pause on recreational marijuana rules over the past year as they fretted over the federal government's reaction to Washington voters' legalization of the drug.

On Thursday, the federal government announced it won't be pursuing legal recourse against states for legalizing marijuana.

That means the "rock and a hard place" that Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke has oft-repeated to describe local jurisdictions' jam between state and federal law might not be as tight as imagined.

Clark County

Last week, commissioners had a work session on the effects of Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure that allows Washington residents 21 and older 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.

The county, however, instituted a six-month moratorium on the new industry Aug. 13 as it plans for how to zone the new businesses.

At that meeting, Senior Policy Analyst Axel Swanson told commissioners the "contradiction" of state and federal law did create a bit of a legal quagmire for commissioners as they looked at zoning laws.

And Mielke said his concern remains that if the county allows such use then county employees "could be subject to arrest and prosecution by the federal government."

But now that the federal government has gone on record with its disinterest in pursuing legal recourse, a new discussion must be had.

"We'll follow this news, and update the board at board time next week," Swanson said, adding he would engage county counsel in a recommendation for commissioners. "(We will) look at the specifics of the announcement and how it will relate to our process moving forward."

City of Vancouver

Meanwhile, the Vancouver City Council has also indicated it may slow down the process of allowing sales.

The council will have a public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at City Hall on a temporary moratorium that would prohibit would-be sellers from applying for a city land-use permit until after June 30, 2014.

The state already says the businesses must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, child care centers, public parks, transit centers, libraries and arcades.

Under interim zoning standards, people who receive state licenses would be able to grow and process marijuana in light and heavy industrial districts.

Tentatively, retail sales of marijuana would be allowed in community and general commercial zones, so long as they meet the state's 1,000-feet-setback requirements.

Reporter Stephanie Rice contributed to this story.

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