King County tightens marijuana regulations

The King County Council has tightened its marijuana regulations, making it virtually impossible for marijuana producers and processors to set up shop in the unincorporated areas around Maple Valley and Covington.

The light green areas around the cities of Covington and Maple Valley are designated as RA-5 zones

The King County Council has tightened its marijuana regulations, making it virtually impossible for marijuana producers and processors to set up shop in the unincorporated areas around Maple Valley and Covington.

The council began examining marijuana issues last April during a town hall meeting on public safety and the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Several dozen King County residents explained to the council their concerns about marijuana, specifically about marijuana producers and processors being allowed in residential and agricultural zones.

In response to these testimonies, the King County Council enacted an emergency moratorium on marijuana, halting all new licenses from being approved and new producers, processors and retail stories from opening up in unincorporated areas.

During the July 25 meeting, the council lifted the moratorium by passing Ordinance 2016-0254, an ordinance restricting marijuana producers and processors in rural zones, in a 5-3 vote.

The ordinance was supported by council members Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer, Claudia Balducci and Dave Upthegrove.

Dunn explained that even though he was originally going to vote against the ordinance because it was less restrictive than he wanted, he changed his mind because he believes the moratorium on marijuana would have expired without the council doing anything about the issues brought to the council if the ordinance did not pass.

“This is not perfect legislation. If I had my way, there would be no marijuana production or processing in the agricultural districts,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it in the RA zonings at all… but I’m going to support it holding my nose because I think we moved the ball forward, even if it’s just a little bit.”

Upthegrove agreed with Dunn, saying that modest restrictions on production and processing in RA zones was appropriate while continuing to provide reasonable access to both recreational and medical marijuana.

Council members Joe McDermott, Rod Dembowski, and Larry Gossett voted against the ordinance.

Dembowski said he was unable to support the ordinance because of some of his basic principles.

“From a zoning perspective, in order to make I-502 work, we need to support the retailing, processing and production of this item,” he said. “We are taking out 140,000 or so net acres… without a study, without really an in-depth review, raises too many questions in my mind about whether we are harming the overall policy goal of supporting the implementation of I-502.”

Dembowski also said that while he no longer has unincorporated land left in his district, his cities do allow marijuana production, processing and retailing.

“If we don’t share the zoning around the county, there is more pressure on my constituents,” he said.

Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles was excused from the vote.

The deadline for Executive Dow Constantine to sign the ordinance is today, Aug. 5. The ordinance takes 10 days to go into effect.

What’s changing

Prior to this ordinance, marijuana producers and processors were able to set up shop in all rural areas, so long as the business operated on a 4.5 acre or larger parcel of land.

There was approximately 200,000 acres of rural zones available to marijuana producers and processors.

The new legislation means marijuana producers and processors can only open in rural areas designated RA-10 and RA-20 (RA standing for rural area and the number signifying how many acres need to be available for every one dwelling unit).

The ordinance also raises the minimum parcel size limit from 4.5 acres to 10 acres.

This reduces the land available to marijuana producers and processors by 141,598 acres, or nearly 70 percent, Dunn wrote in a press release.

This completely cuts off the unincorporated rural area around Covington and Maple Valley to marijuana producers and processors, because the areas around the two cities are designated RA-5.

There are more regulations as well for marijuana producers and processors that want to start their business in agricultural zones.

Before the ordinance, all marijuana producers and processors could only use up to 2,000 square feet for their operations, unless they applied for a Conditional Use Permit.

A Conditional Use Permit in agricultural zones would allow marijuana producers and processors to expand up to 10,0000 square feet.

Under the new ordinance, a marijuana producers or processor operating on a parcel of land between 4.5 and 10 acres can only expand up to 5,000 square feet for their operations with a Conditional Use Permit.

Businesses operating on a parcel of land larger than 10 acres can still expand up to 10,000 square feet.

There are also new setback rules – an additional setback of 150 feet from any existing single family home is now required if the marijuana operation is larger than 2,000 square feet.

Operations that are less than 2,000 square feet still only need to adhere to the 50 foot setback from the road and 30 foot setback from other property lines.

Finally. the ordinance also directs the executive’s office to start a study that would identify 10 areas in Neighborhood Business zones – two for each council district – that could be potentially opened to marijuana retail businesses.

The study is to be finished by the end of the calendar year.

Marijuana producers and processors that were already vested in the system will be grandfathered into the new ordinance, even if they’re licensed to operate on a 4.5 acre parcel in a residential area.

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