I-502 and accepting a new frontier in our island communities | Editorial

Although San Juan County residents voted 68 percent to legalize the use and sale of marijuana to adults back in 2012, the actual implementation of I-502 has been rocky.

In November of last year, Token Herb opened its doors on Crescent Beach Drive in Eastsound. It holds the distinction of being the first-ever state-licensed pot shop in San Juan County. We weren’t aware of any public outcry.

But it would appear that for the county and our island communities, selling marijuana is one thing while growing it is another.

Marijuana producer and processor NW Connoisseurs will be moving from Deer Harbor to Hope Lane in Eastsound. Owners say there will be nothing to see or smell outside the sealed building, but response from neighbors has been mixed. Some feel that having a pot production facility near neighborhoods with families is “inappropriate.” See page one for more on this story.

San Juan Sun Grown, a producer located on San Juan Island, has become the poster child for regulatory hurdles after it shut down operations in December 2014. Owners said the cost of looming legal battles and weight of regulatory uncertainty proved too much to overcome. The county hearings examiner overturned the company’s land-use permit and revoked its building permit, ruling that county planners erred by not adequately evaluating impacts of the facility on surrounding properties.

The San Juan County Council has been getting pressure from the public to reconsider its approach to permitting marijuana-related facilities since I-502 was first approved. Common concerns are noise, odor, traffic and pesticide use.

In January of this year, the council held a workshop to consider imposing a six-month moratorium on building permits for marijuana facilities. In a 3-0 decision, the council voted to disengage from its pursuit of the moratorium – but primarily because it would have also targeted greenhouses. In March, the Department of Community Development was tasked with drafting greenhouse regulations. The discussions included members of the San Juan County Agricultural Resource Committee and Health and Human Services and local farmers. It was presented at a public meeting in early September on San Juan Island, and members of the 30-plus audience voiced their frustration over the process. This week, the council announced it is putting the proposed greenhouse regulations on hold, citing public comment and more pressing land-use topics as the reasons.

We are a county that is deeply rooted in agriculture. There are “open space” tax breaks for farmers, but we won’t support a potentially lucrative new crop because of noise, odor and traffic concerns? The smell of pot is less odoriferous than chicken or pig manure. We applaud the county in its recent decision to abandon the greenhouse regulations. According to Councilman Rick Hughes, the council is currently working on draft regulations for marijuana production. We are looking forward to seeing what those encompass – we agree there should be standards for grow operations.

We hope islanders can accept this new frontier. It’s time to accept that the production and sale of marijuana is legal in Washington state. For a website that keeps track of marijuana taxes in our county, go to http://502data.com/.

And in regards to the new operation going in on Hope Lane, we think it’s a reasonable location. There is already a brewery and other light industrial businesses in the area. If parents are concerned, it’s a great opportunity to discuss with children the realities of marijuana (and alcohol) use.