Commissioners held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance establishing a renewable six-month moratorium on the permitting of the businesses. In the interim, commissioners will appoint a committee, to be chaired by Commissioner Blair Brady, which will examine the issue and recommend steps the county can take to address the issue.
Most of the comments in the public hearing focused on potential impacts of marijuana use in the county and the impact the existence of legal marijuana related facilities would have on youth.
Few, if any, of the comments addressed the ordinance, and commissioners adjourned without formally adopting it.
Tammy Peterson, former president of the Wahkiakum Community Network, said the Network's Healthy Youth Surveys showed that marijuana use is widespread among youth. Considerations such as location of businesses, security, impacts on law enforcement and so on must be considered.
Westend resident Carol Larson said it could be a challenge to fund law enforcement to a high enough level that children are protected.
Sheriff Mark Howie commented that he had seen a study done in Colorado, which also recently decriminalized use and production of marijuana, and that study showed that when marijuana is available, usage goes up.
Undersheriff Steve Marshall said that he doesn't want legal marijuana production and usage to turn the county's safe environment into one that might be seen in communities or cities like Seattle with lots of drug use.
"Let Seattle grow it," he said. "I don't want to start down the path here."
One high-school age girl spoke in support of the moratorium and a ban on marijuana related business. There's too much opportunity for high school age youth and young adults to obtain marijuana, she said. She urged commissioners to be proactive in preventing marijuana businesses in the county.
Chris Bianchi, a partner in one of two businesses that have applied for licenses to produce marijuana, tried to reassure the crowd that the operations would be secure and prevent marijuana from falling into the hands of young people.
One woman, whose name was unintelligible, described herself as the mother of three sons and who had been a school office worker, said parents will raise their children as best they can, but the children will still make choices. She commented that alcohol has many adverse impacts and yet there was no outcry opposing the construction and operation of a brewery in Cathlamet.
The facility Bianchi proposes to operate with Shane Kehrli on Puget Island would have 10 security cameras inside the walls and four outside to monitor activities. Security alarms will notify law enforcement of any breaches or other problems. Each plant will be tracked, and shipping to processors will be tightly monitored.
"People are unaware of the level of security," said Janna Doumit, mother of Shane Kehrli. "Perhaps the only building more secure in the county would be a bank," she said.
She emphasized that the producers would be selling to licensed processors, not children or the public.
"This is a legal business approved by the state," she said.
Puget Island resident Howard Brawn commented that the initiative which legalized marijuana production would bring marijuana out of the black market.
"Having a moratorium is just indecision," he said. However, he did volunteer to serve on the advisory committee.
Marijuana production is now a legal business in Washington, said Bernie Jaspers.
"With enough producers, the price will go down and that will hurt the black market," he said.
After the public hearing was closed, Commissioner Blair Brady said the state legislature hasn't yet decided how the state will handle the issue.
"The moratorium can be extended till we get this resolved," he said.