Franklin County commissioners ban collective pot gardens

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldOctober 30, 2013 

Franklin County commissioners voted to ban collective gardens for medicinal marijuana at their Wednesday meeting, but were less certain about what to do with marijuana for recreational use.

Commissioners discussed recreational marijuana sales in the unincorporated county in a workshop at the end of the meeting. Options include adopting zoning regulations as well as standards for issuing business licenses or going against a state law allowing marijuana sales and prohibiting marijuana-related businesses.

County staff argued that prohibition of marijuana could lead to lawsuits against the county. While commissioners approved a ban on gardens for medical marijuana sales, Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Verhulp said the standards are different for recreational marijuana sales because those businesses would be licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

"Once someone has a license, they essentially have a legal right, and therein, if you potentially impact that legal right, there is question as to whether you have the authority to do that," he said. "And there's potential consequences to that, meaning, of course, legal action."

Another question was raised of whether state law would pre-empt a local prohibition. Further confusion came from federal law, which bans recreational marijuana.

"We are then left to make a decision, presumably, based on individual discretion as commissioners, clear as mud state law, clear federal law, ethics and morals," Commissioner Brad Peck said. "Quite a list."

Along with zoning for marijuana businesses and prohibiting sales, commissioners also discussed doing nothing and waiting to see what action the state takes.

The liquor control board has allotted one marijuana business to operate in Franklin County, with four businesses allowed inside the city of Pasco. The board is expected to start taking applications for marijuana business licenses Nov. 18 and start issuing them a few months later.

Commissioners approved a six-month moratorium on marijuana sales, production and processing in September so they could review their options.

Jerrod MacPherson, county planning and building director, said that, to his knowledge, no county has passed a ban on recreational marijuana sales and Wenatchee and Mossyrock were the only cities to do so.

The county banned medical marijuana collective gardens Wednesday after twice passing six-month moratoriums, commission Chairman Rick Miller said.

Also Wednesday:

-- Commissioners approved reopening a curve on Hollingsworth Road Spur that they voted to close in July because of concerns over corn stalks blocking drivers' views.

Public works director Matt Mahoney said the corn has been cut down for the season, so there is not a safety issue now.

But the county does plan to review the curve, which allows drivers to bypass the intersection with Wahluke and Chestnut roads, as well as around five others in the county that could cause safety problems.

Removing the curves also could allow farmers to grow more crops, Peck said.

-- Commissioners rehired lobbyist James Potts of Spokane, a former Whitman County commissioner, to represent them in Olympia for $3,600 for 2014.

Miller said Potts represents several other counties. "He knows all the legislators very well," Miller said.

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

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