Vancouver likely to follow state law on pot businesses

Planning group will hold a hearing on matter Jan. 28

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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With uncertainty over how far local jurisdictions can go in regulating state-licensed marijuana businesses, the city of Vancouver seems likely to simply follow state law.

Proposed zoning regulations were reviewed Tuesday by the Vancouver Planning Commission and given a green light for a public hearing.

The commission, which serves as an advisory group to the city council, will vote on the ordinance following a public hearing, 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St.

In September, the city council adopted a six-month moratorium on marijuana retail facilities to allow more time to enact zoning rules.

Principal planner Bryan Snodgrass said Tuesday he anticipates the city council will vote on the ordinance before the moratorium expires in March.

Tuesday's meeting was a departure from a Jan. 8 work session with the Board of Clark County Commissioners, as Vancouver officials plan to follow state guidelines established under the voter-approved law.

Initiative 502, which legalized possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older, was approved in 2012.

The county, meanwhile, wants to prohibit the growing, processing or selling of marijuana in unincorporated areas until the federal government legalizes the drug.

That stance may have to be revisited once Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson weighs in. There's no timeline for Ferguson's decision, but he was asked Nov. 1 by the chairwoman of the state Liquor Control Board whether local jurisdictions have the authority to ban state-licensed sellers and producers.

Also Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the state House of Representatives to prohibit local jurisdictions from "preventing or impeding" the operation of commercial marijuana businesses licensed by the Liquor Control Board.

The bill was sponsored by nine Democrats and one Republican, including representatives from Pierce County. Clark County modeled its effective ban on Pierce County's ordinance.

The Liquor Control Board has capped the maximum number of pot shops statewide at 334. Clark County can have up to 15 marijuana retailers, including six in the unincorporated areas.

The rest would be in cities: six stores in Vancouver and one store apiece in Camas, Washougal and Battle Ground.

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.

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

Also, people who receive state licenses to grow and process marijuana would be able to do so only in light and heavy industrial districts.

Snodgrass said all grow operations have to be indoors.

While members of the planning commission discussed potentially tighter regulations, the only one they agreed on was considering increasing the minimum space between marijuana retailers from 300 to 500 feet to lessen the chance stores would cluster in one area.

With setback requirements, the one area in the city with potential for a cluster of marijuana retailers would be on Mill Plain Boulevard west of Interstate 205, Snodgrass said.