Klickitat Port bars leasing for marijuana businesses

Meanwhile, White Salmon council reviews how it will go about potential siting

BINGEN — The Port of Klickitat is not open for business when it comes to Washington’s budding recreational marijuana industry.

On Aug. 6, Klickitat County Port District No. 1’s board of commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that prohibits renting facilities or leasing ground to marijuana-related enterprises on the Port’s properties in Bingen and Dallesport as a matter of district policy.

The resolution cited Port concerns about the conflict between federal and state laws regarding the legality of marijuana — the cultivation, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana is illegal under federal law, but not in Washington once the intent of the voter-approved Initiative 502 is fully implemented by the state Liquor Control Board.

One recital in the resolution stated that “the production, processing, and retail of marijuana remains a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act,” while another stated, “the lease, rental, or other use of Port buildings, properties, and other facilities in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act could result in the seizure of same by the United States [and] negatively affect the Port’s eligibility to participate in future federal funding opportunities, and constitute a breach of existing agreements entered into between the Port and various agencies of the federal government.”

Port Executive Director Marc Thornsbury said the recently adopted policy will help the Port avoid getting caught in the middle of a legal conflict should the federal government decide Washington’s social experiment with marijuana has gone too far.

“Until the contradictions between state and federal law are resolved,” Thornsbury said, “the commission has chosen to err on the side of caution to protect the Port’s, and through it, the public’s, interests from becoming legally encumbered for reasons beyond its control, such as a federal government crackdown on marijuana producers and sellers.”

Thornsbury cautioned the public against viewing the new Port policy as an anti-marijuana statement by the Port Commission.

“The commissioners are not taking a public position on the issue of I-502, beyond the action already taken” Thornsbury said. “Other jurisdictions should do what they think is best for their communities.”

The City of White Salmon has been approached by an individual interested in setting up a retail shop once it’s legal to do so. In response, the city plans to undertake a review of its zoning code to determine where marijuana enterprises could be sited in city limits given the setback requirements involved in the law’s siting process.

The City Council directed staff to work with the city Planning Commission to perform the necessary analysis that will help guide future decision making.

“Through the public process, the city can designate where we want (marijuana enterprises) to go,” Mayor David Poucher said during the City Council’s Aug. 7 meeting. “Tonight we just need some direction on starting the planning process.”

A preliminary review conducted by staff identified one location in town that might work: the commercial zone on the city’s southeast end that includes the Salmon Run residential complex and the former McCoy Video store. The downtown commercial district is considered unworkable because it is less than 1,000 feet from a school.

Thornsbury said various Port Districts in Washington also have been approached by individuals seeking to lease facilities or property for the production, processing, or sale of marijuana under the provisions of I-502.

The Port’s new policy is its response “to a difficult set of circumstances that happen to exist at this particular point in time,” Thornsbury said. “How this contradictory state of affairs (between federal and state laws) is ultimately resolved remains to be seen and, as a result, prudence suggests that the Port avoid the issue altogether until such time as it no longer places the Port’s — really, its constituents’ — assets in jeopardy.”

If legislation legalizing marijuana ever passed at the federal level, Thornsbury continued, “The Port Commission could very well elect to permit a processing facility consistent with the manufacturing focus of its industrial parks. However, unless the commission chooses to broaden its focus to include agriculture and retailing, it is unlikely the Port would site a marijuana production or retail sale operation.”

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