Growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana soon will be officially prohibited in all unincorporated areas of Yakima County.
Yakima County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a land-use ordinance banning such operations after briefly deliberating in front of an audience of about 10 people. The ordinance will be formally adopted next week. Meanwhile, a moratorium remains in place.
Commissioners based their decision on the fact that a majority of voters in Yakima County rejected Initiative 502, which was approved statewide in November 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana.
Commissioners also cited an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office that I-502 does not prevent local governments from banning marijuana operations. Commissioners noted that their land-use ordinance bans the production and sale of recreational marijuana, but doesn’t impact laws allowing people to merely possess legal amounts of the drug for recreational or medicinal use.
Commissioner Mike Leita reviewed arguments on both sides of the issue brought forward in previous public hearings. Many speakers favored the business and tax revenue such operations would bring, while opponents questioned the message I-502 is sending to youth and the possible impact the law could have on law enforcement in the form of combatting driving under the influence and other repercussions.
“What I took exception to is those who came forward and said we’re not going to abide by your rules,” Leita said, referring to I-502 supporters who threatened to sue the county if a ban were enacted.
Commissioner Kevin Bouchey noted that roughly 58 percent of voters in Yakima County rejected I-502. “And that’s clear in my mind,” he said. “I was elected to represent the best interest of the residents in Yakima County, so therefore I am ready to move forward with an ordinance banning recreational marijuana operations from Yakima County.”
The commissioners’ ban goes against the recommendation of the county’s Planning Commission, which in April rejected the proposed land-use ordinance. Planning commissioners said they were swayed in part by the large support for marijuana operations during a public hearing in March.
Planning commissioners also said specific reasons need to be given for barring such operations from certain areas. For example, establishments serving alcohol are not allowed within 500 feet of a school or church. An outright ban across the entire county could be subject to legal challenges, planning commissioners said.
Jedidiah Haney of the local marijuana trade association CAUSE-M said it was no surprise. “It’s to be expected,” he said after the vote, adding that commissioners are not taking full public opinion into consideration.
Haney said his group may push for a new initiative forcing governments to allow marijuana operations or seek a referendum. Taking the matter to court would be the last resort, he said.
“CAUSE didn’t initially intend a legal fight, but to bring it to a discussion with the public,” he said.
The city of Yakima bans marijuana processing and sales; Union Gap has approved both practices.