County Council goes to the phones to settle next steps for marijuana moratorium debate

The Planning Commission will pick up debate on possible code changes next month

CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Council went to the phones on Wednesday to settle what happens next in the debate over the future of a marijuana business moratorium.

Sticky’s Pot Shop on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell could re-open if the Clark County Council lifts a 2012 moratorium on marijuana-related businesses. Photo by Mike Schultz
Sticky’s Pot Shop on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell could re-open if the Clark County Council lifts a 2012 moratorium on marijuana-related businesses. Photo by Mike Schultz

At their weekly Council Time meeting on Wednesday, county staff answered several questions brought up during two recent public work sessions. Those centered around signage, hours of operation, and how to measure the distance between marijuana-related businesses and restricted locations. State law mandates that pot-related retailers or manufacturers must be at least 1,000 feet from a school or public park, but distance requirements from other things, such as community centers, can be changed in county code.

Those questions were added to a proposed county code amendment, which will head to the Planning Commission for their consideration. To get it on the June 6 hearing, the council needed to decide whether to move it forward by midnight on Wednesday.

“With not the entire council being here I’m not particularly comfortable moving forward,” said Council Chair Eileen Quiring, which prompted a new question from District 2 Councilor Julie Olson.

“It’ll be an easy question,” she said, it would turn out, ironically. “Would there be a way to get input from the other councilors if they received this information, in terms of a public open meeting question, about how to move forward?”

Sticky’s Pot Shop on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell could re-open if the county council lifts a 2012 moratorium on marijuana-related businesses. Photo by Mike Schultz
Sticky’s Pot Shop on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell could re-open if the county council lifts a 2012 moratorium on marijuana-related businesses. Photo by Mike Schultz

What she meant was, could they call Councilors John Blom, who was in Washington D.C. meeting with local representatives, or Gary Medvigy, to see if they would approve sending the proposed code changes to the Planning Commission immediately.

It turned out to actually be quite a difficult question, as the county’s legal counsel left the room to dig through the rules to find out if that was something that could be done. In the past, absent council members have called into Council Time meetings to be part of a discussion, but never to vote on moving forward with a proposed ordinance.

After about 20 minutes, staff said that it would not be against council rules to call an absent councilor to get their vote, so long as they had seen the proposed ordinance in advance. Olson said she had texted Blom, and he was available to speak. Once he picked up, Olson briefed him on the debate.

“The question before us is, with those changes added to code, is that what we want to put before the Planning Commission?” Olson asked Blom.

“I would be fine with that,” Blom quickly responded.

“Not knowing anything, fine. He’s supportive,” responded a clearly-irked Quiring. “Julie efficiently communicated and texted him, and got his vote, and I guess we’re going forward.”

“What I did is ask him if he’s available, and he said he was,” responded Olson. “I assume that he’s looked at the document that (Community Planning Director) Oliver (Orjiako) sent us a week or two ago.”

Blom confirmed he had read the document, which seemed to mollify Quiring, though she did ask that a council work session be held after the Planning Commission reached a recommendation, and before any public hearing would be held before the full council.

“We have to know what the Planning Commission recommends and, frankly, what we as a council actually want to make a part of this,” said Quiring. “These are questions that came up, nobody’s made a decision about yes or no about the questions.”

The council decided to include all potential changes in the ordinance headed to the Planning Commission, in order to get as much feedback as possible.

“If we’re talking about possible changes, it would be good to have the Planning Commission actually talk about those changes,” said District 1 Councilor Temple Lentz.

“And they could provide us a recommendation,” agreed Olson. “We may or may not make changes to that recommendation but to have a more complete code for them to review would be better.”

The county has had a ban on marijuana-related businesses in the unincorporated areas since 2012. Last year the county’s finance director said legal pot sales could bring in as much as $750,000 in tax revenue by 2020. Much of that money would go to pay for drug treatment programs. Despite that, County Sheriff Chuck Atkins has maintained that he would prefer to see the ban remain in place, citing a rise in pot-related crashes and crime surrounding marijuana retailers in Vancouver.

County Manager Shawn Henessee says even if the council decides to lift the ban it would likely be some time before businesses pop up outside of Vancouver. There are three marijuana retail licenses currently held in the unincorporated county. One outside of Battle Ground, and two along Highway 99 including Sticky’s Pot Shop, which operated for quite some time in violation of the moratorium, until the county succeeded in shutting it down last year. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board is currently not issuing any new retail marijuana licenses, and it’s unclear when they would do so.

The Planning Commission will get a look at the code changes on June 6, and is scheduled to detail their recommendations at a June 26 work session. If the council decides to move ahead with a public hearing, it would likely happen sometime in July.

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