Benton County commissioners are pushing a pause button on allowing new legal marijuana production facilities near cities and towns.
The emergency zoning ordinance approved in an unanimous vote Tuesday will halt a proposed recreational pot farm uphill from the future Desert Hills Middle School in Kennewick.
It applies only to properties within the rural lands five-acre district. That includes most of Finley and much of the county land immediately adjacent to Interstate 82 and city boundaries.
Benton County commissioners heard recently from a group of neighbors who live near the proposed marijuana farm LLV Green off Clodfelter Road near where Kennewick School District is building the new middle school. The business doesn’t have a license yet, but it’s far enough away that the new school won’t stop state officials from issuing one.
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Commissioners will consider adjusting how Benton County handles where legal recreational marijuana is grown, said Commissioner Shon Small.
“We are putting a freeze on everything right now,” he said.
The temporary moratorium will give the county time to re-evaluate how to handle businesses legalized by Initiative 502, he said. A public hearing on the issue is planned June 2.
Benton County didn’t have any issues with recreational marijuana businesses until the group of neighbors voiced concerns about the proposed marijuana grow, Small said.
The legalization of recreational marijuana has been a challenge for local governments like Benton County to handle because so much of it has continued to change and evolve. But the implementation of recreational marijuana has been something that the state has burdened local governments with, he said.
“We have our eyes wide open about this,” Small said. “We completely understand that (I-502) did not pass in Benton County.”
Initially, all three commissioners were vocal about trying to add stipulations that would limit the ability of legal recreational marijuana businesses to open in Benton County, Small said. But more than 20 county prosecutors, including Benton County’s, advised that county commissioners did not have that ability.
So commissioners decided to err on the side of caution and see what happened with various approaches taken by other local governments, Small said.
Now, there is more information available on results other cities and counties have seen from decisions on how to handle recreational pot businesses, he said.
The marijuana production moratorium was brought up when commissioners discussed other business during the Tuesday commission meeting. It wasn’t listed on the agenda.
Recreational marijuana grows already operating in the county’s rural lands district will be able to continue to operate. The emergency ordinance only stops new businesses from opening.
For a map showing county zoning districts, go to www.co.benton.wa.us/pview.aspx?id=1701&catid=45.