Whatcom County Council puts 60-day moratorium on marijuana

As regulators in Washington move closer to issuing the first licenses in the state’s new recreational pot industry, the Whatcom County Council approved a 60-day moratorium Feb. 11 that blocks new applications for marijuana producers, processors and retailers in the county.

The moratorium, which passed a council vote unanimously, also includes medical marijuana facilities. It only covers applications in unincorporated areas of Whatcom County, where the county government has jurisdiction.

The 60-day block will give county officials time to produce an interim ordinance for the council to review, with assistance from local law enforcement and the county prosecutor, according to Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws. The moratorium could extend beyond 60 days if more time is needed.

According to the moratorium ordinance, which Louws presented to the council Feb. 11:

– “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 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.”

– “It is necessary to have this moratorium take effect immediately in order to prevent future applications for marijuana producers, processors, retailers, and collective gardens from vesting under current laws and thus subverting the purpose of additional regulations to protect the public.”

The Bellingham Herald reports that council members were motivated, in part, by concerns from residents of the Clearbrook community near Sumas over a license application from a business entity called Delta#Nine. Residents there are concerned about the proximity of the proposed business to locations where children live and play, as well as the limited law enforcement available to patrol the area.

County officials said they began receiving notifications for proposed pot facilities from the Washington State Liquor Control Board last December. Regulators from the liquor board have told the county that the agency expects to start issuing licenses for pot production, processing and retail by late February or March of this year.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a formal opinion Jan. 16 that stated Initiative 502, the measure that legalized possession and sale of recreational pot in Washington, does not prevent local governments from regulating or even banning marijuana businesses within their jurisdictions. Ferguson’s opinion also suggested that the state Legislature could amend the law to restrict local governments’ authority on the matter, if lawmakers chose to do so.

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

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