A proposed shuffle of Yakima County employees could put the county in a better position to enforce its ban on pot operations — if it decides to do so.
County commissioners considered adding $200,000 into code enforcement’s annual $250,000 budget in order to handle about 1,300 outstanding code violation cases. There was also the question of whether the county wants to expend the time and money enforcing its ban on marijuana businesses in unincorporated parts of the county. More than 20 businesses are reported operating.
But county Department of Public Services Director Vern Redifer says reorganizing planning department staff would allow enforcement of the ban without costing additional money.
Under the proposal, planning department staff would enforce zoning regulations that have historically been handled by code enforcement officers from the building department. Those two code enforcement officers have handled all code violations across the 4,296-square-mile county. But their primary focus is on building and fire codes, not zoning issues.
Marijuana businesses operating with a state license in unincorporated areas of the county are not committing a criminal offense, but rather violating the county’s zoning ordinance.
Having workers in the planning department focus on zoning violations would allow quicker enforcement of the marijuana ban, said Redifer, who will bring the staffing plan to county commissioners next month for possible adoption.
Commissioners have yet to decide whether that ban should be enforced.
Meanwhile, many of the marijuana businesses operating with a state license in unincorporated areas of the county are poised to challenge the county’s ban in court, said Jeffrey D. McPhee, CEO of Tetra-Max Global, which offers consulting services to many marijuana businesses throughout the region.
“We’re intelligent, well respected members of the community,” he said of the group of marijuana business owners. “We have our ducks in a row. We knew this may happen.”
Many of those businesses previously operated low-key, solely catering to the medicinal market without any interference by the county.
But new state regulations that took effect in July folded all medicinal operations into the broader recreational market, which is not allowed in unincorporated areas of the county.
McPhee, as well as marijuana business owners, would like to bring the matter to county voters now that state regulations are impacting medicinal suppliers.
Commissioners have said the ban is justified because Yakima County voters, in contrast with much of the rest of the state, rejected legalizing recreational marijuana by 57.8 percent in 2012.
McPhee believes voters in the county now would support marijuana because of the impact to the patients using the drug.
“We’re talking about end-of-life care, we’re talking about patients and they’re throwing patients under the bus,” he said.
Revenue from taxes of such operations would greatly benefit the county, he contends.
He said there are currently about 165 workers at marijuana farms and processing plants in businesses facing the ban, and five potential retailers poised to open if the ban were to be lifted.
“They would benefit from it greatly as they do from hops and apples,” he said,