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Islanders invited to comment on marijuana ordinance

Several public officials will be on Vashon next week, seeking input on proposed zoning regulations that will govern marijuana-related businesses that arise in the wake of Initiative 502.

Last fall, Washington voters passed I-502, which legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Among the issues government officials are considering as implementation of the law draws near is where the county will allow new businesses to be located. Staff at the King County Department of Permitting and Review (DPER) have drafted a proposed ordinance concerning their locations in unincorporated areas of the county, including Vashon, and are seeking input on the measure in a series of public meetings, the last of them to be held Tuesday on Vashon.

“We want a broad range of input on the legislation,” said John Starbard, the director of DPER.

Starbard said he expects some of those who attend meetings will speak up in favor of the stiffest controls possible and others will likely express views that are the polar opposite.

“You find out where the extremes are and work toward an agreeable solution,” he said.

The meeting is in many ways historic, and yet it is also routine, he added.

“It is not unlike any piece of land use legislation,” he said. “How do we accommodate the (various) needs and concerns?”

DPER’s proposed ordinance provides a framework for growing, processing and selling marijuana and includes the following conditions, according to a recent press release.

• Indoor growing and processing of marijuana would be allowed in areas zoned as Community Business, Regional Business and Industrial.

• Outdoor growing would be limited to the Agriculture and Rural Area zones.

• Retail sales would be allowed in the Neighborhood Business, Community Business and Regional Business Zones.

All marijuana businesses would require a state license and could not be located within 1,000 feet of youth-oriented facilities, such as schools or parks. The state is also considering requiring fencing and other security measures for all licensed facilities, according to the press release.

While the core of the meeting will be about zoning regulations, other public officials will be at the meeting to listen and provide input as well, Starbard said, including King County Council member Joe McDermott and representatives from the prosecuting attorney’s office, the public health department, the King County Executive’s office and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is creating policy for how the initiative will be carried out.

Alan Painter, King County’s manager of the Unincorporated Community Service Area Program, will moderate the event and said he expects a range of questions beyond zoning issues.

“We’re very mindful that there will be broader issues that will be raised and that will be good to hear,” he said.

In Washington, I-502 passed with 56 percent of the vote, and in King County, it garnered 63 percent. While the state’s voters made their intentions clear, on Vashon several people are concerned about the measure and its effects on island youth. Teen marijuana use on Vashon is higher than the state average, according to Diane Kjellberg, the co-chair of the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA), and many are concerned marijuana’s legalization will only increase the number of teens who turn to the drug.

“For our youth, we’re already fighting an uphill battle on this, and to allow (marijuana) to be grown here is to give a nod and a wink and say we’re OK with it,” Kjellberg said.

Meri-Michael Collins, Kjellberg’s co-chair, concurs. She noted that both women attended a conference recently, and the subject of legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado was a frequent topic. She has several questions, she said, ranging from how law enforcement on Vashon will handle the changes to how money from marijuana grown or sold on Vashon might benefit the island.

VARSA members have plenty of company in their concerns about youth marijuana use.

In an effort to keep teens from using the drug, several public officials, including County Executive Dow Con-stantine, the Snohomish County deputy executive and public health officials from Snohomish, Pierce and King counties, recently sent a letter to the Washington State Liquor Control board requesting further restrictions in the rules the board drafted. And in Saturday’s Seattle Times, an article described how several communities are grappling with implementing I-502 locally. While some communities, such as Seattle and Shoreline, are moving ahead in their preparations, other communities, including Kent and University Place, are prepared for a legal fight to keep marijuana-related businesses away, according to the Times.

The article also noted that the new law does not give communities an opt-out clause, so even if a community were to try to keep marijuana-related businesses away, the state could still provide businesses with the necessary license. Further complicating the picture is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which raises additional questions.

Close to home, DPER’s Starbard noted he understand that the issues arising are new for many people.

“The times, they are a-changin’,” he said.

After the series of public meetings, Constantine is expected to submit a final proposed ordinance to the Metropolitan King County Council by the end of this month.

The meeting will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, at Courthouse Square. The first hour of the meeting will be an open house, and at 7 p.m. the public comment period will begin.

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