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Packaged marijuana is prepared in 2016 for distribution at Sticky Budz in Zillah, Wash.

Yakima County officials are giving state-licensed marijuana businesses operating in unincorporated areas of the county until March 1 to cease operations or be shut down.

According to a news release from Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic’s office, the county is in the process of sending cease-and-desist letters to the more than 20 pot businesses operating in unincorporated areas of the county.

“The people of unincorporated Yakima County have voted twice to ban recreational marijuana businesses, and we are representatives of the people,” Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said in the release. “The board of County Commissioners decided to give the twenty or so remaining businesses a grace period to voluntarily wind down and close their doors. Those businesses that do not cease operations by March 1 will face legal action.”

Commissioners enacted the ban in 2014, saying it was the will of the people. Yakima County voters rejected the legalization of recreational marijuana although it received statewide approval.

Despite the ban, pot grower-processors and a retailer cropped up in unincorporated areas of the county.

Those businesses argue that they are providing employment, generating revenue for the community and operating safely under heavy state regulation.

In response, the county beefed up its code enforcement by adding $200,000 to the department’s operating budget and simplifying the steps needed to take when seeking an abatement order in court. The county also had an advisory vote in 2017 to see whether voters had changed their mind on marijuana since rejecting its legalization in 2012. More than 60 percent of voters favored the ban.

The county shut down a retail pot shop in the Gleed area this past summer, and a Kittitas County Superior Court judge ruled the county was within its legal authority to enact and enforce a ban on such businesses.

The county also ordered the closure of Sticky Budz, a Lower Valley grower and processor outside Zillah. Sticky Budz has appealed, and the business will remain open during the appeal process.

“Once Sticky Budz is resolved, I think that puts the matter to bed for all the businesses,” said Don Anderson, who heads the county’s civil division. “We’re already four months along in that appeals process and I would think within the next year or less the court of appeals will have an answer.”

Sticky Budz CEO Jamie Muffett said he and other marijuana business owners plan to discuss the matter with commissioners in January. They hope commissioners will have a change of heart with the addition of newly elected Norm Childress.

“We’re still hoping for an opportunity to have a talk with county commissioners and share the positives we bring to the Yakima Valley,” he said. “I don’t think this fight is over by any means.”

Muffett has said he’d move the business to Yakima or Union Gap — where there are no bans on state-licensed marijuana businesses — if the county shuts him down. Under state law, he could do that.

 

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