With a second marijuana growing operation proposed for Puget Island, Wahkiakum County commissioners this week took steps to institute a moratorium on marijuana related facilities.
The state liquor control board collects local agency comment before it approves license requests, and two weeks ago, commissioners gave a grudging 2-1 approval to a request for an operation planned by Shane Kehrli and Chris Bianchi on Puget Island at the intersection of State Road and SR 409.
On Tuesday, the scenario repeated itself with another 2-1 local approval for Alfred Kyle Rizzolo, who proposed a growing operation at 485 SR 409, Puget Island.
Commissioner have been told their comments are only advisory to the liquor control board, which is developing rules to implement a voter-approved initiative's relaxed regulations of use and production of marijuana.
"I'm 100 percent for trying to prevent it (marijuana use by youth) but to stop a legal business from doing business, that's not really fair to them," said Commissioner Mike Backman, who with Commissioner Blair Brady, expressed no objection to the Rizzolo application.
Commissioner Dan Cothren restated his previous objection to marijuana cultivation.
"I will do everything in my power to oppose it," Cothren said. "I have looked at it a long time. From what I've seen from all this is that it's a stepping stone to harder drugs."
Sheriff Mark Howie agreed with Cothren that marijuana is a gateway drug.
"For our tiny county to start harvesting here sends a wrong message," he said. "Approving several marijuana grows and the county being involved is mind boggling to me.
"It sends the wrong message to youth. We (law enforcement personnel) see it on a daily basis. There has been a spike in use in the high school since the initiative passed because it's legalized."
Westend resident Arlene Stefan said she agreed with comments of Cothren and Howie.
Other citizens were present at the commissioners meeting and expressed opinions supporting legal growing operations.
Skamokawa resident Sharin (no last name) suggested the board listen to the people and not have a moratorium. Cultivation could bring new jobs and revenue to the county, she said.
Susan Patterson, a 4-H club leader, commented that alcohol abuse is a problem that overshadows marijuana among youth.
"Parents who give their kids alcohol are the gateway operation," she said. "I'm not worried about a licensed, state regulated operation. It's not the kids; it's the adults that we have to worry about."
Michael Farrin, a retired US Coast Guardsman, said he sees potential for jobs and revenue from licensed growing operations.
"I understand the concerns about it falling into the hands of youth," he said. "I didn't vote for the initiative, but it's legal."
He added he would like to begin cultivating hemp, a relative of marijuana which historically has many beneficial uses but is proscribed by law.
Commissioner Blair Brady responded that he, too, favors legal cultivation of hemp because of its many uses.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing in March on a proposed ordinance that would adopt a moratorium on the establishment of marijuana related facilities and uses pursuant to Initiative 502.
In one background clause, the proposed ordinance states that the impacts of marijuana production, processing and retailing uses under a licensing system that so far has not resulted in the issuance of a single license in the county are still largely unknown, and whether the county will need to adopt further regulations to address potential issues remains uncertain.
The ordinance would place the moratorium on establishment of uses related to Initiative 502, but medical cannabis production and use permitted by other law wouldn't be affected.
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow said that if the liquor control board approves the two applications before the county passes its moratorium, they would have grandfathered use privileges. Subsequent uses would be prohibited until the moratorium expires.