Castle Rock is the first town in Cowlitz County to designate areas where marijuana production and retail businesses can locate.
City Council members last week approved an ordinance to allow marijuana producers, processors and retail businesses to locate on 50 acres of land east of Interstate 5 off of Exit 48 and southeast of Kalmbach Road. The land already is zoned for commercial use, and the few houses in the area are abandoned.
City staffers said the ordinance, which took effect last Wednesday, gives the city more power to protect “sensitive areas” in town from marijuana businesses.
“This provides the greatest protection to churches, playgrounds and schools so that the youth would not be exposed,” said T.J. Keiran, an associate city planner for Castle Rock. “The desire of the council is to comply with (Initiative-502) but to not promote (marijuana) use necessarily.”
Castle Rock City Attorney Frank Randolph said the city is entering uncharted territory.
“There is no precedent for this. We’re dealing with incredible uncertainties here,” Randolph said. “It’s a way to recognize the state law has changed, but, at the same time government hasn’t gone away.”
Other cities have established moratoriums on marijuana businesses, citing legal uncertainty and public opposition.
Voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana production and sales licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. On Monday, state officials launched the licensing process, and the state Department of Revenue received more than 300 online applications on the first day. The number of local applications will not be available until next week. Would-be pot retailers and growers have until Dec. 19 to apply for licenses. The state will limit the number of retail outlets in Cowlitz County to seven, reserving three of those slots for Longview, one for Kelso.
Keiran said Castle Rock has not received any applications, but about six people have asked about the regulations to grow marijuana in city limits. People applying for a pot license must pass background checks by the Liquor Control Board. In Castle Rock, at least, they also will be subject to a public hearing.
Under the city ordinance, marijuana businesses cannot be located within 1,000 feet within of any schools, day care centers, playgrounds, parks, libraries or public transportation centers. Pot grow operations also must be located in a secured indoor building surrounded by an 8-foot fence.
Production buildings also will need surveillance systems, and licensees are required to track marijuana from seed to sale. License signs need to be visible at all times outside the pot business.
Longview and Kelso city councils have established sixth-month moratoriums prohibiting marijuana producers, processors and retailers from doing business in town until the cities can create new zoning laws.
The new marijuana laws have divided the city, Keiran said. Only one family located near the designated marijuana zone publicly expressed concerns, and the city did work with the family to prohibit marijuana businesses from using their vacant land.
“It hasn’t been an easy issue. It’s been polarizing,” he said. “Some people think the time has come for (legal marijuana use), and others think this is not something a small town wants imposed on them by the state.”
Time will tell if allowing pot businesses will be a boon or bust for Castle Rock’s economy, Randolph said.
“This is something that is still unfolding,” he said. “This could be a great idea. It could be a total disaster. No one’s going to know for a couple of years.”
Lyxan Toledanes covers health and social services for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.