The Columbian / Associated Press

Clark County Council eyes code changes for cannabis

As the Clark County Council continues to reconsider its ban on recreational cannabis businesses, it’s turned its attention to where such companies would be allowed to set up as well as other land-use questions.

While the council took another step toward lifting the ban, Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring, an opponent of recreational cannabis, said it wasn’t a done deal and pushed for a more protracted process.

“I don’t want to assume we are lifting the ban,” said Quiring.

Recreational cannabis businesses have been banned in unincorporated Clark County since 2014, two years after Washington voters legalized the drug. Since then, cannabis businesses have proliferated in Vancouver. Earlier this year, the Clark County Council began taking a second look at the ban after last year’s elections changed the council’s composition.

Last month, the council held a work session looking at the law enforcement and public health aspects of legal cannabis. On Wednesday, the council held another work session looking at what changes to the county code would be required to roll back the ban.

A draft of code changes presented to the council would allow licensed cannabis producers and processors to operate in areas that have certain agricultural and forest zoning designations. Licensed retailers would be allowed to operate in commercial areas under the draft code.

Under state law, cannabis businesses are prohibited from setting up within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, child care centers, parks, recreation facilities, transit centers, libraries and arcades. A 2015 change to state law allowed cities or counties to make an exception to the buffer (except for elementary and secondary schools, as well as playgrounds).

Councilor Temple Lentz asked county planning staff to look into adding language that would include substance abuse treatment facilities in the buffer. She also questioned if the buffer should be measured from property line to property line, referencing a comment the council received pointing out that businesses can be located in large strip malls. In response, planning staff indicated they would evaluate using the actual premises of the business to apply the buffer.

The draft code language would allow retailers to be open between 8 a.m and 8 p.m. Councilor Julie Olson suggested changing it to allow retailers to be open until 11 p.m. to be consistent with the city of Vancouver.

Clark County Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako told the council that making basic amendments to the county code to allow for recreational cannabis businesses could be accomplished within 90 days. He said more substantive changes to the code would trigger a more extensive process with public involvement that would require 180 days.

Lentz, Olson and Councilor John Blom have expressed a willingness to lift the ban. Councilor Gary Medvigy, who was appointed to the council in January, has said he’s undecided. Council Chair Eileen Quiring has remained steadfast against lifting the ban and has called for the more extensive process.

“As the chair of the council, I would say that going from 8 o’clock in the evening to 11 o’clock in the evening is a substantive change,” said Quiring. “I would also say that if we change any sort of distance in any sort of way that’s a substantive change.”

She pointed out that while the ballot measure legalizing cannabis passed statewide, it failed in Clark County. She also said the county should have open houses to give people a chance to weigh in on the topic. Medvigy also said he favored the more extensive process and questioned if it was premature to direct staff to draft code changes.