The Columbian / Associated Press

Clark County continues to eye pot-law changes

Sticky’s Pot Shop, which unsuccessfully defied the county’s ban on recreational cannabis, will reopen in its Hazel Dell location should the Clark County Council vote to reverse the prohibition.

Jeremy Larson, the son of the store’s owner, John Larson, made the remarks Wednesday after the most recent council work session, which examined zoning and land-use considerations of lifting the ban. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the topic at its July 2 meeting.

“We are pleased with the direction the county is moving in,” Jeremy Larson said. “We really appreciate the broad consideration they have given this.”

After last year’s elections, the council began rethinking the ban, which has been in place since 2014. The owner of Sticky’s has made attempts to open despite the ban. Most recently, the store opened in 2017 after being granted a reprieve while it challenged the ban in court. But after losing the appeal, John Larson was ordered in March to pay a civil penalty of $112,500 to the county.

Meanwhile, the county moved forward with reconsidering the ban. In April, the council held a work session examining the public safety and health aspects of legal cannabis. A month later, it held another work session on changes to the county’s land-use and planning code that would make way for legal cannabis and specify where pot businesses can be located.

Earlier this month, the Clark County Planning Commission reviewed the proposed changes and approved them 3-2. During the meeting, commissioners expressed concern about public engagement, opposition to legal marijuana in north Clark County and if the regulations were too restrictive.

On Wednesday, the proposed code changes were back before the council for a final review. The proposed changes to the code provide a definition of “marijuana.” They also reflect updates to state law, such as eliminating “collective gardens,” which were previously used for medical marijuana.

Colete Anderson, a Community Planning program manager, said the proposed code will continue the county’s ban on medical marijuana cooperatives, which allow grows of up to 60 plants in residential areas. She said these grows are difficult to inspect.

The code revisions would permit marijuana production and processing in some areas zoned agricultural, forest or industrial. Anderson said the planning commission recommended that retail marijuana businesses be permitted to operate in commercial areas in the Vancouver urban growth area but not in rural centers. Retailers would be allowed to stay open until 11 p.m. to match the city of Vancouver’s ordinance.

Currently, three businesses hold retail licenses and another three are pending in unincorporated Clark County. More than a dozen hold processing or production licenses.

A previous version of the code changes would’ve prohibited marijuana facilities from being within a thousand feet from the perimeter boundary of sensitive sites, such as schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care centers, arcades, churches and substance abuse treatment centers.

The planning commission voted to revise the buffer to 750 feet to allow more flexibility and to prevent the potential unintended consequences of putting marijuana facilities in another undesirable location to meet the more expansive buffer. The thousand-foot buffer will still stand for public playgrounds, as well as elementary and secondary schools as required by state law.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Gary Medvigy said he had been contacted by constituents about the reduced buffer. He asked if it had been lowered to unfairly benefit “one particular retailer.”

“Certainly, it shouldn’t benefit one particular retailer over the business interests of the general group that’s out there that may have permits,” he said.

Councilor Temple Lentz said the reduction came out of a conversation with businesses concerned about the limited area where these businesses could be sited.

After the meeting, Jeremy Larson said the county code shouldn’t concentrate marijuana businesses in one area and should instead spread them out to improve access.