Grays Harbor to receive six pot stores, local officials hashing out details

Six marijuana stores and many more marijuana growing and processing businesses will likely crop up in Grays Harbor County next year, according to the newest draft of marijuana regulations released by the state Liquor Control Board Wednesday.

One of the stores will be located in Aberdeen, another in Hoquiam, and a third in Ocean Shores. The other allotted stores could be established in the remaining Grays Harbor cities or unincorporated areas of the county.

And while the Liquor Control Board won’t issue marijuana permits until the beginning of next year, local governments are already taking measures to figure out what they’ll do to regulate the state’s newest legal industry. John Kliem, a consultant hired by Grays Harbor County to draft a marijuana ordinance, said this shouldn’t be too hard.

“There are a lot of rules, and that’s the beauty of it,” Kliem said. “The Liquor Control Board is pretty much handling it. All we have to do is make a decision as to where we locate production, processing and retail.”

The newly-released Liquor Control Board draft rules will regulate the state’s permitting process for growers, processors and retailers of recreational marijuana. Cities may add additional rules, as long as regulations don’t impede a viable, legal marijuana industry said Liquor Control Board Spokesman Brian Smith.

Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott and Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson said Thursday they still need to review the new rules.

“If it’s run like the liquor stores were, we had very little if any responsibility for providing any kind of enforcement or compliance responsibilities, that was exclusively Liquor Control Board,” Scott said of retail stores.

The production operations could be more of an issue. The rules don’t set any limit on the number of facilities for growing marijuana in an area .

“The number of those operations that will be in our county will be a concern because they’re going to be targets,” Scott said, either for people attempting to exploit the new system or those who would try to break in and steal the product.

Johnson noted Pacific County hadn’t seen a particular spike in grow operations after I-502 passed, so confusion on legal rules may not be an issue yet, but illegal production is as much a problem as ever. As recently as Tuesday, he said, deputies confiscated a pickup truck full of marijuana.

“I don’t think any sheriff is going to tell you we’re happy about the new marijuana rules, but we’re very respectful of them,” he said.

The state will accept applications for marijuana production, processing and retail permits between Nov. 18 and Dec. 18, and permit processing will take about 90 days. Smith said the state could issue more permits later if there is a significant demand for more marijuana businesses.

Under the draft regulations, those who hold a marijuana producer license can grow marijuana to sell to other marijuana producers or to marijuana processors. A marijuana processor license allows businesses to process, package and label marijuana for wholesale to a marijuana retailer. A marijuana retail license allows businesses to sell usable marijuana, marijuana-infused products and marijuana paraphernalia to people 21 and older.

The application fee for each permit is $250, and permit holders must pay $1,000 each year in permit fees.

In order to obtain any marijuana license, all applicants and their employees must be at least 21 years old, regulations state. Marijuana license applicants may not begin growing, processing or selling marijuana until the state Liquor Control Board issues a license. The board will deny marijuana retail licenses to those who wish to sell their product from inside another business.

In this draft of the rules, marijuana businesses may not allow the consumption of marijuana products on their premises. An earlier draft allowed customers to sample products, but for now, customers will have to be content with a smell test.

Municipal and county governments won’t be completely removed from the state’s permitting process — a provision in the regulations will allow local governments to argue for or against a specific business coming to the area. The Liquor Control Board will send a notice to affected local governments upon receiving a permit application, and the governments will have 20 days to respond with a recommendation to approve or deny the applicant, the location or both. Permits may be denied if governments provide a substantiated objection.

The board will then conduct an investigation to verify that the proposed applicant and business meet all requirements for the type of marijuana license requested. Applicants and business financiers will be subject to criminal background checks. Applications from those who have been convicted of a felony within the last 10 years will be denied, as will applications from people convicted of two or more gross misdemeanors in the past three years, applications from those convicted of two or more misdemeanors in the past three years and applications from people convicted of a misdemeanor and a gross misdemeanor in the past three years. People currently under federal or state supervision for a felony conviction will also be denied permits.

Applicants must also submit an operating plan that includes security provisions, plans for employee training and plans for destroying waste product.

Draft regulations also require that all marijuana businesses are Washington-based. All applicants must have resided in Washington for the past three years, an the same is true for those who manage marijuana businesses for the applicants. All partnerships, cooperatives, for-profit and non-profit corporations, associations and limited liability companies applying for licenses must have been formed in Washington.

Permits will not be issued for facilities within 1000 feet of an elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center, childcare center, public park, public transit center, library or game arcade. For reference, 1000 feet is roughly equal to the lengths of three football fields.

Marijuana must be grown in a completely enclosed indoor facility or in an outdoor area completely surrounded by an opaque, 8-foot fence. Marijuana growing space is limited 45,914 acres statewide. Individual growers can have up to 30,000 square feet of growing space, depending on what type of category they fall into.

Customers may only purchase one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, seven grams of marijuana-infused extract for inhalation or 72 ounces of marijuana infused product in liquid form per transaction. All usable marijuana products must be stored behind a counter or barrier so customers don’t have direct access. All marijuana packaging will include warning labels regarding health risks associated with the products. Packages and advertisements may not state that marijuana has curative or therapeutic effects. Marijuana will only be sold between 8 a.m. and midnight. “This whole thing has been a public process,” Smith said. “We’ve held 13 meetings throughout the state, and these rules have really been crafted from the input we’ve gotten over time.”

In the county

Grays Harbor County is going through a similar process with the Cannabis Land Use Task Force, composed of citizens, marijuana advocates and county employees. And after a couple months of drafting and review, an ordinance regulating both medicinal and recreational marijuana will go before the commissioners.

“We’re covering more than the state is right now,” Kliem said. “We’re also dealing with medical marijuana, which was a horribly-written and truncated law.”

At a Wednesday night meeting, the task force spent two hours discussing zoning and permitting issues for medical marijuana collectives, with the members butting heads regarding the location and scope of collectives. Tammy Ramsay, a medical marijuana activist, argued that the county should only place moderate restrictions on medical marijuana collectives established on private property.

“If you own the house, if you own the property, then why should we be telling you what you can and can’t do?” Ramsay said.

“That’s right, that’s big brother looking down your throat,” added County Commissioner Frank Gordon.

The conversation about recreational marijuana was notably calmer, and Kliem said this is a direct result of the specificity of the law. But many of the taskforce members agreed even enforcing a recreational marijuana ordinance would be difficult, given the current Grays Harbor County economy. Gordon said the county is having a hard time enforcing ordinances that are already in effect.

“I want to discount everything you’re saying so I can gouge money out of all of them,” Gordon joked.

In the cities

The City of Aberdeen and the City of Hoquiam have also begun the process of creating local marijuana regulations — but they’re largely holding off until the state issues a final list of regulations.

Hoquiam City Attorney Steve Johnson said Hoquiam officials have began mapping out where marijuana businesses would be prohibited based on the locations of parks and schools. For now, the city is in ‘wait and see” mode, and renewed a moratoria on medical marijuana collectives and recreational marijuana businesses at an Aug. 26 city council meeting.

“Staff is in the process of working on some regulations, zoning regulations, to deal with marijuana businesses,” Johnson said. “Until the liquor board issues rules, and no one knows yet what they are, it’s going to make that process difficult.”

Neighboring Aberdeen is in a similar boat, and Eric Nelson, corporation counsel for the city, said the Aberdeen City Council will likely renew its marijuana moratorium when it comes to a vote in November.

“There’s no way to have legal marijuana stores in the city until the state issues permits,” Nelson said. “So I think that’s the best plan.”

He said city staff and council members haven’t yet started drafting ordinances regarding marijuana zoning, business licenses or indoor growing, but he expects these issues will all be addressed.