Marijuana growing operation pitched to Carbonado council

Emotions are running high in tiny Carbonado, where a proposed marijuana-growing operation is swirling through town circles.

The issue – which was roundly discussed during an informal gathering Feb. 6 and in front of the Town Council on Feb. 9 – centers upon the potential use of town-owned land. Tacoma entrepreneurs have pitched the idea of leasing perhaps five acres of a 17-acre parcel near the town cemetery, out of sight of most residents.

In strictly financial terms, such an arrangement could be an economic shot in the arm for the community of 600-plus residents. Carbonado has a limited revenue stream, with just one business in the historic community.

But those who oppose the pot-production plan believe there’s more than dollars and cents to be considered.

Bruce Cristel is a lifetime resident of the former mining town that is now home to single-family dwellings, a tavern and a K-8 school system. He’s also the lead figure in the fight against the weed-growing request.

Cristel rallied forces to host a Feb. 6 informational session, sending a tri-fold mailer to homes in the area. On those pages, it was noted that Carbonado residents did not vote in favor of Initiative 502, the statewide measure passed by Washington voters in 2012. It also was explained that the town’s elected leaders started a process that could bring the necessary land-use changes required for a commercial marijuana-growing operation.

That meeting, Cristel said, drew a larger-than-anticipated crowd, a group that filled tables and chairs and left some standing. All but two in the audience raised their hands, he said, when someone asked how many opposed the plan pitched by Tacoma’s John and Brian Grimm.

The standing-room-only theme continued Feb. 9 when Mayor Whitmore convened a public hearing in front of the five-member Town Council. That session, due to attendance, was moved from Town Hall to larger quarters in the fire station.

“It was a very emotional meeting,” Cristel said.

Attorney Loren Combs, who is providing legal counsel to the town, shares that sentiment.

“It was probably one of the best public hearings I’ve been to,” Combs said, noting that everyone was polite and civil while asking thoughtful questions.

Combs said town leaders are doing their due diligence by examining the proposal, while not committing to anything.

“It’s an interesting philosophical discussion,” he said. “How does a small town survive?”

Combs explained the town would need to take several steps before a single marijuana plant sprouts on Carbonado land. The council would need to approve a change in the town’s formal Comprehensive Plan while also changing the zoning of the property in question.

The proposed Comp Plan change has been forwarded to the state’s Department of Commerce, which has the ability to raise questions. If the agency has concerns – and there were none as of Feb. 19 – the process could be stalled or derailed.

Assuming no red flags are raised, members of the Town Council will likely vote on the Comp Plan and zoning changes when they gather on March 9, Combs said. If changes are adopted, the town would have to declare it has no immediate need for the acreage in question and submit a formal Request For Proposals. Anyone with a desire to use the land could then submit a request.

Eventually, the council would have to accept an RFP and authorize the mayor to enter into contract negotiations.