Marijuana farm application draws reaction
The first application for a state licensed marijuana producer in Wahkiakum County generated lively discussion at the Tuesday meeting of the board of county commissioners.
Commissioners are used to seeing applications for liquor licenses for taverns, lounges and community events, but on Tuesday they saw their first notice of a marijuana license application.
The state Liquor Control Board processes the applications for liquor and marijuana licenses; the application process allows local officials such as the county commissioners to recommend approval or denial to the state board.
At the end of Tuesday's discussion, Commissioners Blair Brady and Mike Backman said they had no objection to the license, and Commission Chair Dan Cothren said he was opposed.
License applicants are Shane Kehrli and Chris Bianchi, doing business as Natural Paths. They propose to grow marijuana plants in a building off SR 409 on Puget Island. The plants would be sold to a licensed marijuana retail outlet; Natural Paths wouldn't sell to the public.
The notice to the commissioners contained little information, and Sheriff Mark Howie and Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow were able to explain the process.
"This is our first time," Howie said of the license application. "We don't really have a lot to say about it. The liquor control board has already vetted the applicants."
Howie said his department had done a record check on the applicants and found nothing of concern.
"There's nothing locally that prohibits us from supporting it," Howie said of the application.
Bigelow added that the board of commissioners take one of four steps:
1. The board could approve the application;
2. The board could disapprove and provide reasons;
3. The board could disapprove with reasons and ask for an administrative hearing if the state board approves the application, and
4. The board could take no action, which would, in effect, indicate approval.
Cothren and others present said they opposed the proposed growing operation.
"I don't want this in Wahkiakum County," Cothren said. "I don't want it around for school kids. It's rampant up there (in local schools). It goes against everything I stand for, keeping drugs out of Wahkiakum County.
"It sends the wrong message. I would like to do a resolution to ban it in Wahkiakum County."
Cothren's wife, Paula, commented that they have raised many foster children, and some of them have come from families with drug abuse, and marijuana was often the first illegal drug they used.
"I just want to go on the record to ask you, please, to totally ban this," she said. "It's detrimental to our families. Keep them away from this."
Sheriff Howie voiced his disapproval.
"As sheriff, I do not support this county allowing it for manufacture here," he said. "We see kids at school. We are constantly taking kids into custody at the school's request. They're smoking it in the parking lot. They're getting suspended. There are other side crimes that stem from this.
"It's already legal to have possession of it, but to support it being grown here would cost the county more money in the end both on the mental health side and on the law enforcement side."
Commissioners Brady and Backman said that while they didn't approve of the application, they didn't feel there were grounds to disapprove it.
The legislature and the voters approved initiative have taken control out of the county's hands, Brady said, adding that Wahkiakum County voters had oppposed legalization of marijuana.
"The issue is this application," Brady said. "We can do an ordinance at another time."
Skamokawa resident Mike Linn compared the issue to alcohol use and its problems and suggested both issues should be treated consistently.
Tim Schmitz, also of Skamokawa, said he didn't disagree with people's personal views, but he didn't think the county should end up in a lawsuit with the State of Washington over the issue.
"It's not actually up to us," Bigelow said. "Even if we disapprove, there's no guarantee the state will listen anyway."
Bigelow added that if the county were to pass ordinances to prohibit the growing, it could be drawn into a lawsuit because state law allows the operation.
"The lawsuit would come from whoever it is who wanted to make a point that we are not allowed to zone away marijuana," he said. "This fight is going to happen somewhere. One of the counties that has banned marijuana is going to get sued . . . like our biosolids lawsuit. I would appreciate it if it wasn't us this time because I can handle only so many."
Cothren asked if the board wanted to make a motion on the issue.
"Why don't we just object or not object; we don't need a motion," Brady said. "I've already stated I do not object."
"I can see both sides, but I'm going to say no objection," Backman said.
"And I go on record as objecting, so it passes," Cothren said.
Applicants Shane Kehrli and Chris Bianchi arrived at the meeting after the board had taken action.
Bianchi said they want to conduct the operation in a legally responsible manner.
"It's a new industry for us and my generation," he said. "I definitely didn't want to be a front runner. We want to follow every rule out there and do a good job."