The new rules apply in unincorporated areas, limiting pot farms to parcels of 10 acres or more and requiring 1,000-foot buffers between retail stores.
The Metropolitan King County Council lifted its moratorium on legal pot business in unincorporated areas of the county while addressing some concerns of rural residents.
Legal pot farms were limited to parcels of 10 acres or more in rural zones by the council in Monday’s vote. Farms had been allowed in all Rural Area (RA) zones before the council imposed the four-month moratorium in late April.
To address complaints that retail stores were clustering in Skyway, White Center and other poorer parts of the county, the council voted to require 1,000-foot buffers between stores.
But the council narrowly rejected a proposal by Councilmember Larry Gossett to allow them in all neighborhood business zones in unincorporated areas, with some members saying that was too hasty for them.
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Instead, an amendment by Councilmember Reagan Dunn was approved calling for a study that would recommend where to locate 10 new retail stores in neighborhood business zones, with no more than two stores per council district.
Gossett and Joe McDermott, both Democrats, voted against the final bill, saying they were concerned about equitable distribution of stores and access, particularly for medical-marijuana patients. The other dissenting vote came from Rod Dembowski, also a Democrat, who said he objected to removing thousands of acres from legal farming and imposing new burdens on the young industry.
“We managed to find a way to do a little bit of everything we were asked to by the community,” said Councilmember Claudia Balducci, in support of the final package that some called a thoughtful compromise.
The meeting lasted more than five hours, with much if not most of the time given to residents of Redmond Ridge, who lobbied against the possibility of legal farms in their community, though no such formal proposal was made at the meeting.
The final vote was 5-3, with Democrats Balducci and Dave Upthegrove joining Republicans Dunn, Kathy Lambert and Pete von Reichbauer. Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat, was in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention and missed the action.
Dunn, who sponsored the moratorium, said he didn’t want to allow farms in any of the rural zones. While “holding my nose,” he said, he voted for the compromise “because we moved the ball forward even if a little bit.”
The moratorium surfaced after rural residents complained vigorously that pot farms should not be allowed near them because they believe farms are not compatible with quiet, scenic communities.
Specific complaints focused on odors, lights, declining property values and public safety, though Sheriff John Urquhart said there was no increase in crime linked to legal farms. Opponents tended to describe the farms as heavy industry, saying state law did not count marijuana production as agriculture.
Only a handful of pot farmers testified with differing views, saying the industry was strictly regulated by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) and farms had to get county approval for wastewater disposal and more.
Susan Gress, owner of a legal pot farm on Vashon Island, said state law did not consider pot farming agricultural so that the industry didn’t get agricultural tax breaks. Growing marijuana plants “is the very definition of agriculture,” Gress said. “I am just as legitimate a businessperson and farmer as a person with a vineyard or a tomato farm.”
Damon Shelton, another legal farmer, said some of the complaints were based on “hysterics” and fear of marijuana.
Vashon was exempted from the rural-zone limits because it has its own land-use restrictions.
Balducci said the county’s rural zones allow a mix of uses, including commercial and industrial, even if they are primarily residential.
According to county officials, the state has allocated 22 additional retail stores to the unincorporated areas. The state has issued 23 producer, or farming, licenses in unincorporated King County. In contrast, 22 have been licensed in Seattle and eight in other King County cities. Farms can be no bigger than 30,000 square feet, or roughly two-thirds of an acre.