Yesterday morning I participated in the meeting of the King County Transportation, Economic and Environment Committee (TrEE). They considered two actions that would influence the development of legal marijuana on Vashon Island. If this is all unfamiliar to you, you can get caught up here.
Issue #1 - Amending the Town Plan to Allow Legal Marijuana Businesses
The change to the town plan was successfully passed from the TrEE Committee and sent to the full KCC with a recommendation of passing. That is good. However, the specific zoning change that was passed was to allow “marijuana producing (growing)” and “marijuana processing 1” in CB zoned properties. The former K2 property is presently zoned as CB. “Processor 1” excludes what EdiPure does as a business which is “Processor 2.” Processing 1 is just trimming and drying the flowers but does not allow the infusion of food products. If you manipulate or change the marijuana other than trimming or drying, that is Processor 2.
So that leaves nobody winning. The folks in favor of EdiPure moving in were not satisfied and neither were those seeking to block marijuana on Vashon. When the ordinance gets passed by the full King County Council, and it most certainly will, marijuana will be able to be grown in CB areas on the island but the door to EdiPure is still closed.
The date for the full King County Council meeting is as of yet unannounced but it will be at least 45 days away.
In that same discussion, an amendment was passed that blessed our friends over at Seattle Distilling who also had a falling out with the Town Plan recently. Good for them!
There were no environmental amendments to the proposal even mentioned by the Committee.
Issue #2 - Amending the Conditional Use Permit.
The bigger issue is the Conditional Use Permit. I was very grateful that CM McDermott brought forth the amendment that I suggested in my testimony, though it is likely he and his team came up with it on their own. After it was made clear to me that there was no chance at all of removing the CUP entirely county-wide, we proposed raising the canopy ceiling before a CUP to at least 10,000sqft for RA and Industrial zones. This novel approach treats marijuana like any other legal farm crop and CM McDermott’s wording was elegant. This amendment was beaten by a 3-2 vote. McDermott and Upthegrove were in favor with Dembowski, Lambert and Hague voting against. From their comments explaining their positions, I can tell that none of the three council members who voted against it really have a grasp of the particulars. They all wanted to wait it out for a year and see, missing the point that there will likely not be any legal growers at all on Vashon if the canopy is left at 2,000sqft. Our island’s marijuana production will remain in the black market or in the medical market. Instead of being focused on going slow to be cautious, we should be moving swiftly to remove marijuana from the black market and get it all regulated as quickly as possible. The decision of the TrEE Committee absolutely sustains the black market on our island. Inclusion is how you regulate, not by extending the prohibition era mindset of exclusion and enforcement because we already know that does not work. Also, it means that King County will lag behind in this market as other counties with no CUP develop this new industry themselves. For example, many marijuana businesses are streaming to Mason County now because they have no CUP and a very helpful bureaucracy that want the investment.
As I mentioned last week, “If you don’t know much about marijuana, it is very hard to relate this for you but consider that the top license available in Washington is for 30,000 sqft and this is only 2,000sqft. That is tiny, tiny. With the ceiling at 2,000 sqft, anyone wishing to grow more than that will be required to have a CUP and incur the costs above and also a delay in starting business which means they will miss this summer’s outdoor growing season, either moving them indoors to use lights or having to wait all the way until next summer to grow. That does not make for good business. The WSLCB did not call for this added measure after we all passed I-502. This is an extra zoning layer that King County has added that does not occur elsewhere in the state.”
So the King County Council talks of supporting business and ending the black market but obviously has not the vision to actually do so.
This brings me to the short sightedness of the three speakers self-identifying as Vashon concerned mothers on the microphone.
What I wish the concerned mothers and “not in my backyard” folks would understand is that having legal marijuana growing at K2 is a big win for them and our shared goal of preserving a safe family environment on Vashon. First and clearly significant would be giving legal growing jobs to 30 Vashon growers who are likely growing for the black market right now. Not all, but surely most. I know this because I am recommending them for the jobs at EdiPure. Putting these horticulturists to work legally would remove so much black market marijuana from the island. The flowers they would be producing at EdiPure are hyper-regulated and would be far, far less likely to find their way into the hands of Vashon youth. Also, if the concern is really about “the children,” how about the kids of parents who are underemployed because there are so few good paying opportunities on the island. EdiPure’s plans include about 100 full time jobs over the first year and that is a lot of income and health insurance for families that is just getting thrown away. It felt very much like the concern being expressed by the speakers was much more for the kids of wealthy families rather than viewing this situation in the context of our island's massive underemployment and poverty.
Bakkhos is reviewing their options for K2 at the moment and those options are quickly dwindling. There are a couple moves that they can make but none of them look especially promising. Bakkhos are also being constantly bombarded with easy properties offered to them in other counties that are begging them to come because they know the value of that community investment and jobs.
Unfortunately, it looks like King County Council and the DPER themselves are the roadblock to our island’s success in legal marijuana business far more than any local agitators or concerned mothers. They just make all of this immensely less pleasant. For the moment, marijuana entrepreneurs are going back to their business plans to figure out if there is any way to salvage legal marijuana on Vashon this first growing season.