WENATCHEE — Chelan County commissioners shortened their moratorium on marijuana businesses with the intent of eventually allowing them.
About two dozen people attended a public hearing Tuesday on the county’s six-month moratorium — adopted last month — on the growing, processing and selling of recreational marijuana.
“I don’t think it’s the intent of anybody (on the commission) to not allow it,” said Commission Doug England. “We just want to make sure it’s allowed in the right place and done in the right way.”
The commissioners said they want to give their staff and the Planning Commission time to develop and approve any land-use changes needed to regulate where such businesses could be located in the county.
“Whether or not we agree with the law isn’t the issue here,” Commission Chairman Keith Goehner said after the meeting. “Our responsibility is to make sure Chelan County codes are cared for.”
Under the state’s current rules, Chelan County is allotted three retail businesses, and an unlimited number of processing and growing operations. The city of Wenatchee was also allocated three retail businesses, but the Wenatchee City Council voted last week not to allow any pot-related businesses.
County commissioners imposed a six-month moratorium on Sept. 13. On Tuesday, they shortened it to four months, ending Jan. 14.
Deputy Prosecutor Susan Hinkle told commissioners that the moratorium will not prevent people who want to open businesses from applying to the state for licenses. The application period begins next month.
State Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, testified at Tuesday’s hearing. He is the ranking Republican on the state Oversight and Accountability Committee, which is overseeing the implementation of the new law legalizing the growing, processing and sale of recreational marijuana.
He told the commissioners that he believes the Wenatchee City Council made a “grave mistake” last week when it voted to not allow marijuana businesses. He urged them not to do the same.
He said criminalizing marijuana has not worked to stem its use.
“The only option was to legalize and control it,” he said. “I think it’s a worthwhile experiment.”
“The whole idea is to move from a black market to a legal market,” he added. “Give it a chance to work.”
Several members of the Smith family of Peshastin, who are interested in growing recreational marijuana, testified in favor of allowing the businesses.
Collin Smith said such businesses will put people to work and generate revenue and sales tax.
“Work with us to make it a market,” he told the commissioners. “We voted for this. Let us have it.”
Others who testified included Mark McCants, an East Wenatchee businessman who has expressed interest in opening marijuana retail stores in East Wenatchee, Wenatchee and Moses Lake, and a few people who supported marijuana for medical purposes.
The lone voice of caution among those who testified came from Renee Hunter, executive director of Together for Drug-Free Youth.
She said her primary concern is that legalized marijuana will be more accessible to children.
“My plea to the county commissioners and to the growers and to the businesses is please come together and look at prevention,” she said. Her comments drew applause from nearly everyone in the audience.
Several potential marijuana business owners said they would like some direction from the commissioners on whether they will be allowed once the moratorium expires. McCants said he need to find store space to rent.
“Just come out and say you’re friendly to the idea,” he said.
Condotta added, “I think it (the moratorium) creates great uncertainty for folks who are trying to invest.”