The interim marijuana regulations in Thurston County that deal with medical marijuana cooperatives could be tweaked to place a limit on how many may operate in the county.
At a meeting last week, Commissioners Bud Blake and Gary Edwards met with staff about the issue.
“Since there’s no cap, you don’t know how many can go out,” Blake said.
County staff have said it would be legal for the county to set a limit on the number of medical cooperatives in the county, but no known groups currently operate in the county.
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Medical marijuana was approved by Washington state voters in 1998. Recreational marijuana was approved in 2012.
Medical and recreational marijuana stores had been operating separately, with different growers, processors and stores, until medical stores were shuttered in July when Senate Bill 5052 was enacted. The bill merged the two markets into a single entity.
State law allows as many as four medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants as a cooperative.
Edwards raised the issue of enforcing a cap or other regulations on cooperatives. The former sheriff questioned how the county could enforce a limit when patient privacy rights could block the county from knowing details on operations.
“How do you make a policy decision if you can’t get a straight answer?” Edwards said.
County staff said the Liquor and Cannabis Board has said it would notify the county when a new cooperative starts.
Thurston County commissioners have been allowing marijuana in the county under interim guidelines, which they hope to eventually turn into permanent regulations. The interim designation allows them to adjust the regulations more easily.
They also discussed public feedback, which indicated that residents don’t want marijuana grow operations or processing in residential neighborhoods. The commissioners will begin looking at zoning regulations for new businesses.
Blake said there are more than 80 state marijuana business license holders in the county, including producers and processors.
He also directed county staff to look at trends in other counties along the Interstate 5 corridor that have allowed marijuana businesses to operate to better understand how changes in policies could affect the county.
For example, he wondered whether Snohomish County adjusting its policies to make it more difficult for marijuana businesses there would prompt owners to acquire licenses in Thurston County instead.
Blake said he also hopes to see the marijuana industry run more informational campaigns against underage use.
While the state uses money raised from the excise tax on marijuana retail sales to run its own campaigns against underage use, Blake said he hopes to see more businesses take up that cause too.
“My desire would be that the industry as a whole would step up and try to discourage the youth,” he said.
Lewis County commissioners also discussed marijuana regulations at their meeting on Monday, in which they voted 2 to 1 to end a moratorium on marijuana sale and production in the county, but still retained a clause that said businesses need to gain a currently unobtainable federal water use permit to operate.