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County set to vote on marijuana moratorium next week

COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioners Tony Hyde (left) and Henry Heimuller discuss a proposed marijuana moratorium Wednesday, April 1. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on an ordinance temporarily restricting marijuana sales and growth on April 8.

Columbia County commissioners are slated to vote on a new moratorium on marijuana facilities Wednesday, April 8.

The moratorium would make it temporarily illegal to establish new dispensaries or grow sites in unincorporated areas for about nine months. Columbia County established a moratorium for medical marijuana dispensaries last year. That moratorium is set to expire in May.

Commissioners met with county staff members and legal counsel Wednesday afternoon, April 1, to talk about a proposed ordinance for the moratorium.

The ordinance, which is available to view online on the county’s Land Development Services Department website, would implement a 120-day moratorium on dispensaries and grow sites for both medical and recreational marijuana. County leaders said they expect the four-month restriction to be extended an additional six months.

“The purpose of the temporary moratorium is to delay development of County land use regulations for recreational and medical until the state regulations have been adopted,” the draft document states.

The county says it wants to avoid adopting land use laws that may have to be changed once the state establishes its guidelines for recreational marijuana.

“This one has a very prescribed land use process,” Robin McIntyre, an attorney for the county, said Wednesday afternoon during a Board of Commissioners staff meeting. “It’s even more prescribed than the usual land use process.”

The moratorium would exempt facilities already operating legally, but it would not allow them to expand.

Commission Chairman Henry Heimuller acknowledged that the county can’t enforce or regulate all grow sites, but suggested the county require grow site operators to grow indoors or in secured, fenced areas because of the potential for theft and crime.