San Juan County adopts changes to marijuana ordinance

San Juan County adopts changes to marijuana ordinance

The moratorium on marijuana production and processing will lift after being in place for a year and a half.

The San Juan County Council unanimously agreed to accept amendments to the marijuana production ordinance during its Aug. 25 meeting. San Juan County Department of Community Development Planner Adam Zack presented the draft ordinance to the council, after which the council voted to approve.

“The moratorium was enacted to allow the county time to adopt new performance standards for marijuana production and processing,” Zack said. “The draft ordinance before you today will amend San Juan County Code sections and add some new sections for production and processing performance standards.”

In April 2019, council members Jamie Stephens and Bill Watson voted to temporarily enact a six-month pause on permitting marijuana production and processing operations in the county while the county council established rules and regulations over the process. The moratorium was extended twice.

The new ordinance amends several existing county codes and adds new sections directly related to marijuana production and processing.

The topic of prohibiting permits to new marijuana grow operations arose from the controversy surrounding three proposed farms on Lopez. The applicant for all three permits through the state’s marijuana licensing board is Laurent Bentitou, who owns waterfront property on Lopez Sound Road and a cannabis farm named Ceres Garden in Bellevue, Washington.

The first proposed tier 3 site was on Ferry Road and is owned by Michael and Vicky Terra of Paducah, Kentucky. This application was withdrawn by the applicant. Then, the second and third requests were made for Bentitou’s waterfront property, a smaller location, but for a tier 3 permit as well as a tier 2.

Tier 1 and 2 outdoor production is allowed in agricultural resource and rural farm-forest designated areas on the islands. Tier 1 allows for up to 2,000 square feet of plant production space; tier 2 is between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet; and tier 3 is for 10,000-30,000 square feet.

The draft ordinance prohibits all tier 3 marijuana grows from being approved in San Juan County. Production and processing are prohibited in Olga.

Tier 1 and 2 are permitted by conditional use permit in Activity Center Land Use Designations of village industrial; hamlet industrial; and island center. The only hamlet industrial areas are in Deer Harbor. There are two areas designated island center — one at the intersection of Crow Valley and West Beach roads on Orcas and Dill and Center on Lopez. There are currently no lands designated village industrial.

Production done in activity center land use designations must be conducted in a fully-enclosed and secure structure, such as a “stick-built” building or an opaque greenhouse with rigid walls, a roof and doors.

Tier 1 and 2 operations are allowed by conditional use permit in rural general use; rural farm/forest; rural industrial and agricultural resource land use areas. Indoor and outdoor production and processing allowed in rural farm/forest and agricultural resource land as well. Additionally, processing is only allowed to take place if it’s an on-site production in rural farm/forest and ag resource.

The ordinance also calls for minimum lot sizes — tier 1 is one acre in rural general use and rural industrial and three acres in rural farm/forest and ag resource. Tier 2 is allowed on properties with 5 acres in rural general use and rural industrial; and 10 acres in rural/farm forest and ag resource.

In the Eastsound Subarea, tiers 1 and two are allowed in Eastsound village commercial; service and light industrial; service park; and country corner commercial. All processing is required to be done indoors. Production and processing is prohibited in all other Eastsound designations.

Only one state license can be used on any parcel outside of the urban growth areas. This will prevent more than one operation located on one parcel. Additionally, a certificate of occupancy will be issued until the state approves the license.

According to San Juan County, marijuana is considered an agricultural product, Zack explained. This prohibits marijuana growers from receiving some of the special treatment agricultural products get such as being allowed near critical areas and receiving shoreline allowances. The ordinance also prohibits production and processing in residences; critical areas; critical area buffers; and the shoreline.

In areas designated as agricultural resource lands, production is only allowed to take place in structures that were legally established prior to the effective date of the ordinance, Zack explained.

This will prevent the construction of new structures for production or processing in agricultural resource land and prohibits the expansion of existing structures in agricultural resource lands for the same reason.

Additionally, both indoor and outdoor facilities have to be set back 300 feet from the property line and 500 feet from existing neighboring residences.

In every land-use designation, lighting must be directed away from neighboring property owners; critical areas and public roads. Type A landscaping is required around the processing area as a visual barrier. The ordinance requires state-mandated security features to be installed prior to the occupation of the structure.

Applicants must describe the use of hazardous substances, methods, or equipment in the application and onsite plans to identify. Fan noise must be muffled and exhaust air must also be filtered to minimize odor impacts to surrounding properties.

The ordinance allows up to five transportation truck trips per day on private roads and between 6 and 19 trips per day on public roads.

View all documents regarding the marijuana ordinance at https://www.sanjuanco.com/1585/Marijuana.

The moratorium expires Oct. 2.

“I’m proud of the work that was done to limit the size and scale of marijuana production in San Juan County. As one of the most pro-pot elected officials in the state of Washington and maybe the county, it has taken me a long time to come around to the need for proper regulations for our small, rural community,” San Juan County Council Chairperson Rick Hughes told the Journal. “But even though San Juan County voted in favor of legalization more than any other county, it took the hard work and determination of a few Lopez residents to make me realize that our community needed a defined set of regulations that would allow for existing marijuana production while setting reasonable standards to allow commerce and at the same time not impact neighbors and the community. I appreciate the patience of the members of the Lopez community who helped me find a path that I could support and that would be in the best interest of San Juan County.”