YAKIMA – State-approved marijuana retail and processing merchants won’t be doing business in unincorporated parts of Yakima County any time soon.
Yakima County commissioners yesterday (Tuesday) held a public hearing on the moratorium they approved on Sept. 3 to prohibit sales, production and processing of marijuana.
A number of public officials spoke in favor of keeping the moratorium in place, some asking that the moratorium be extended before the commissioners agreed to keep the current six-month moratorium in place. It expires in March 2014.
Commissioner Rand Elliott noted the public hearing was held in compliance with the moratorium rules. “This is not a hearing on long-term decisions,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Leita noted that approval simply affirms the moratorium.
Tommy Carroll of the planning department spoke, stating the moratorium is in place to provide clarity for the county. He said the Washington State Liquor Control Board issued rules for the sales, production and processing of marijuana this month. The rules will be in effect beginning Nov. 16.
The county, Carroll said, will use those rules for determining license and zoning guidelines for such purposes.
George Colby, an attorney representing the Yakama Nation, told the commissioners the Yakama tribe would like the county to extend the moratorium indefinitely.
“You probably don’t have to worry about the will of the people,” he said, noting Yakima County voters rejected I-502 by 57 percent.
He said the state cannot impose I-502 on the tribe because of the treaty between the U.S. and the Yakama Nation.
“This may be an issue where the county and Yakama tribe find commonality,” said Colby, stating the Yakama Nation has authority on its ceded lands as demonstrated when the tribe won a lawsuit three years ago, preventing Honolulu’s garbage from being dumped in Roosevelt.
Leita asked Colby if he believes sales or production of marijuana on tribal lands would qualify as interstate commerce since the federal government has stated Washington state cannot conduct interstate sales of marijuana.
Colby said the sale and production of marijuana on tribal lands would be in violation of federal laws and the federal government, he is certain, would enforce the laws.
Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin took to the podium as a law enforcement official and a public citizen, stating he wants the moratorium upheld because he does not agree with proponents of I-502.
As a law enforcement officer, he said he has found marijuana to be a gateway drug. He said he has asked drug addicts about drug use and many have indicated to him that they began using marijuana before trying other substances.
“Consistently, marijuana is the largest product sold…it is the second largest problem created by drug cartels,” said Irwin, stating he doesn’t believe regulation will reduce cartel activity.
As a private citizen, Irwin said, he is concerned that use of marijuana will increase and families will be torn apart.
He said he has seen the effect of drug use and doesn’t want to see Yakima County residents impacted negatively by a drug he believes harms people.
Also speaking to the decision to uphold the moratorium were Ken Hotot on behalf of the White Swan School District, Carmen Mendez of Safe Yakima Valley Communities, business owner Ken Marble and Anna Marie Dufault of ESD 105.
All said they believe I-502 was not supported by Yakima County voters and county officials should look at ways to restrict the production, sales and processing of marijuana.
Commissioner Kevin Bouchey thanked each of the individuals for speaking, stating the county must look at both the legal and community issues before decisions are made in regard to licensing and zoning restrictions and rules.
There wasn’t any public comment asking the county to rescind the moratorium.
The commissioners upheld the moratorium by a 3-0 vote.
‑ Jennie McGhan can be contacted at 509-837-4500, or email JMcGhan@DailySunNews.com