Six-month moratorium on pot passed in Franklin County

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 11, 2013 

Franklin County became the latest jurisdiction in the Mid-Columbia to enact a six-month moratorium on marijuana sales.

Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to put off allowing any business that produces, sells or processes marijuana. The city of Pasco already has passed a similar moratorium, while the city councils in Kennewick, Richland and West Richland have discussed them.

Commission Chairman Rick Miller said it will be important to establish zoning regulations for marijuana sales. There also are questions about whether the federal government, which continues to outlaw marijuana sales, will overrule the state of Washington, where voters approved it last year.

"I think we'll watch to see what the outcome is," he said.

Commissioner Brad Peck said he was concerned with the Washington State Liquor Control Board limiting the number of marijuana stores it will allow to 334. He said other counties might add stores while the moratorium is in place in Franklin County, thus taking business away from Franklin County.

"It's kind of like a dry county next to one that isn't," Peck said.

The county has a set number of marijuana stores it can allow, regardless of whether it implements the moratorium, said Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Verhulp. The liquor control board will allow only one business in Franklin County outside of Pasco, with four allowed in the city.

But that business doesn't necessarily have to go in the unincorporated county, said liquor control board spokesman Brian Smith. One of the smaller cities in the county that wasn't large enough to have a marijuana store assigned to it is eligible to go after the one marijuana store if it gets it before the unincorporated area.

"Many of the communities are trying moratoriums because they are waiting to see what the final rules look like," Smith said.

But they will eventually have to accept sales, he said.

"There is nothing in the rules that allows a community to opt out of I-502," he said.

Benton County is not currently considering a moratorium for the areas outside Kennewick, Richland and West Richland, said Chairman Shon Small of that county's commission. The "at large" area there has been allotted two marijuana stores.

"That's something that could possibly be looked at at a later time," Small told the Herald. "There's just a lot of unanswered questions about the whole marijuana legalization."

Also Wednesday:

-- Commissioners discussed the investigation of allegations that District Court administrator Kelly Martin ran a National Football League betting pool. After a 15-minute closed session with Prosecutor Shawn Sant, Miller said it was agreed that District Court Judge Jerry Roach has supervision over Martin, not the commission.

-- Commissioners opened one bid for phase 3 of its road safety program. The project would include putting in 500 feet of new guardrail on Wahluke Road near Basin City. The lone bid by a Vancouver, Wash., company was for $426,700, well over the engineer's estimate of $304,350.

Peck said the county will not be obligated to accept the bid.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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