Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Moratoriums (Local Whatcomcentric)

Last week the Bellingham City administration brought forward a moratorium on marijuana businesses. The City Council passed the moratorium on a 7-0 vote.

This next week the Whatcom County Council will be considering a renewal of a moratorium that was originally passed in 2005 regarding subdivisions in the Lake Whatcom watershed. The fact that the moratorium is coming forward means that it will likely pass.

Disclosure: I personally think moratoriums are a good idea and should be used a lot more often. However, given my past experiences I recognize that my view on the subject may be a minority view point.

The Bellingham marijuana moratorium is a recognition that that the City had no rules or regulations or zoning in place for what has been an illegal business. While the State Initiative that legalized the production, sale and use of marijuana included some specific criteria for the locations for growing and selling, local governments have not had to deal with this issue in the past because it was (and still is for the time being) illegal.

The way the initiative was done and the rules the State Board are working on separates the production and sale. Hence, local governments will need to develop regulations as to where the product can be produced (grown) and where the product can be sold consistent with the state law which is still in the works. Two very separate activities. Separate as the Initiative intended them to be.

So for Bellingham, Where are the best places within the confines of State Law for marijuana to be sold? While Bellingham voted very strongly in favor of marijuana legalization, I suspect residences will have opinions as to where shops should be located. Maybe residences could care less. But at this point in time this issue has never been through any public process. The moratorium regarding sale locations will give Bellinghamsters a chance to have their say before the City starts issuing permits. The same issue must be before many local communities.

The same will be true of production facilities. This will take more careful thinking. Growing marijuana has impacts and under the State requirements those impacts will not be minor depending on the location. For one thing the State will require significant security - fences, lighting,  maybe cameras. Odor impacts are real - the stuff does not smell very good. Ventilation is an issue which raises noise issues.

The other moratorium? Whatcom County has slowly slogged through the various action items laid out in the original Lake Whatcom moratorium. Some of these issues simply were inherently slow to move through public process. The required zoning changes were part of a much bigger zoning change effort that required lots of hearings and went through a number of appeals. The last piece is new stormwater regulations and is actually the second time this issue has been reviewed by Council since the initial moratorium was passed and the fourth time in the past 15 years the County has updated stormwater rules in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Each time the stormwater rules were reviewed there was substantial improvement, but there have always been enough council members that were willing to push watered-down versions of what needed to be done that they have had to revisit the rules yet again. Typically the big stumble block has to do with small lots and the desire to not burden the small lot developer with rules that apply everywhere else.  


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