But any attempts by the county to shut them down would most likely be met with a legal challenge, said Jeffrey McPhee, who represents marijuana businesses across the region.
Voters put a stoplight in front of Yakima County Commissioners on Tuesday when it comes to lifting a ban on recreational-marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county — an outcome that could potentially ignite a court battle with more than 20 marijuana businesses.
Those businesses, says a paid consultant, aren’t willing to close their doors without a fight.
Any attempts by the county to shut them down would most likely be met with a legal challenge, said Jeffrey McPhee, who represents marijuana businesses across the region.
“We’ll see them in court — we’ll be happy to see them in court,” McPhee said.
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Preliminary results late Tuesday night showed voters supported the ban by a supermajority of nearly 61 percent, compared to about 39 percent in favor of lifting the prohibition. The results are only an advisory vote, meaning Yakima County Commissioners have final say on whether the ban should be lifted.
But it seems unlikely commissioners would go against voter wishes.
“The voters have said let the ban remain and we are representatives of the people,” Commissioner Mike Leita said.
Leita said commissioners won’t decide whether or not to start shutting down marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas until after final tallies are completed and the election is certified on Nov. 27. At that time, results from unincorporated areas will be separated from those in cities to give commissioners a clear picture of what voters want.
Last year, impacted businesses united under a marijuana growers association — Cannabis Producer Processor Trade Association.
Jamie Muffett, who owns Sticky Budz outside Zillah, blamed confusing ballot language and an off-election year when voter turnout is traditionally low as reasons for the outcome.
“Our next step is to continue doing what we’ve done the last three years, continue to do business, to operate our business,” he said. Muffett wouldn’t say what his plans would be if the county attempts to shut him down.
“I really don’t have a comment on that right now,” he said.
The run-in between marijuana businesses and county officials ignited more than a year ago, when the state combined the medicinal marijuana market with the broader recreational market. Before that, the two markets were regulated separately, and the county allowed small medicinal operations. After the change, those businesses found themselves in violation of county regulations.
Commissioners based the ban on how Yakima County voters soundly rejected an initiative — I-502 — legalizing recreational marijuana statewide in 2012.
Marijuana-business owners contend the ban would hinder the availability of medicinal marijuana in the area. McPhee also argues the ban is thwarting potential business growth. He says he knows of at least 60 grower-processor operations interested in the area.
Meanwhile, the county included an additional $100,000 in next year’s preliminary budget for code enforcement to help beef up enforcement efforts.
Last year, the county briefly discussed shutting down marijuana businesses but realized that it didn’t have enough resources to do so. Officials estimated at the time another $200,000 would be needed in the code enforcement budget. Then, the businesses threatened to challenge the ban in court if the county attempted to shut them down. That’s when commissioners sought the advisory vote.
Whether or not the ban is lifted, there still will be more work for code enforcement officers, Public Services Director Vern Redifer said.
If the ban remains, then work will be needed to shut down the more than 20 grower-processors now operating in unincorporated areas of the county. If the ban is lifted, the county will have to devise a land-use ordinance regulating marijuana businesses and inspections would need to be conducted to assure current establishments are abiding to proper zoning, Redifer said.