Clark County to continue pot moratorium until Feb. 2014

Staffers are working on how to zone for the growing, manufacturing and sale of marijuana locally

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County is staying the course with its moratorium prohibiting recreational marijuana facilities outside of city limits until at least February 2014.

After a brief discussion at Tuesday's weekly public hearing, Clark County commissioners voted unanimously to continue an emergency moratorium approved earlier this year. The ban on recreational marijuana stores and agricultural use will stay in place until Feb. 13, unless commissioners revisit that time line.

In the meantime, county staffers are working to plan for how to zone for the growing, manufacturing and sale of marijuana in unincorporated Clark County. Their efforts take place at the same time as the state prepares to finalize similar laws in response to Washington voters' legalization of the drug last year.

Commissioners have been hesitant to move forward on marijuana zoning in the past, citing federal law, where marijuana remains illegal, as a troublesome double standard. The current direction to county staff is to zone for the drug's use.

"We're continuing to work toward drafting a model code for planning and zoning," said Axel Swanson, senior policy analyst for Clark County. "We are currently working to come up with a plan to implement the state licensed uses."

But commissioners will get the final say in the matter as staff intends to present a final work product at a public hearing sometime in January.

Residents ready to sell

Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure, allows Washington residents 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana.

It also provides for means to grow, process and sell the newly legal drug, and the state intends to issue licenses soon to entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the newly legal crop.

And the demand to do so does exist in Clark County, according to attorney Stephen Horenstein, who told commissioners he represented two individuals "interested on the retail side."

"The request is you do not extend the moratorium beyond February," Horenstein said during comment period on the moratorium. "I don't think it should take that long to codify that … (and) we ask that you expedite that."

Clark County is actually ahead of the curve in the region. In September, the Vancouver City Council approved a moratorium that will expire June 30.