SHELTON — Mason County commissioners approved a moratorium Tuesday night on permits for medical cannabis cooperatives in the county.
During a meeting Tuesday night, Commissioners Terri Jeffreys and Tim Sheldon voted for a 60-day moratorium on cooperatives so the issue could be discussed during a public hearing.
Commissioner Randy Neatherlin was the lone vote against the moratorium that took effect immediately. He said he wanted an immediate public hearing before any action was taken.
“We should have the discussion,” Neatherlin said.
The vote came after county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Whitehead and county Community Development Planning Manager Barbara Adkins advised the commissioners to take immediate action with changes in the state’s medical marijuana laws changing on Friday.
“The law allows the county to zone them along with the state,” Whitehead said of medical marijuana cooperatives.
When the law takes effect it allows up to four patients who are entered in the database to join together and form a cooperative garden.
Patients and designated providers who participate in a cooperative may grow the total number of plants authorized for the participants.
The law is intended to allow patients living in areas where there is no recreational marijuana sale to purchase medical marijuana.
In addition, the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board will award licenses to existing medical marijuana dispensaries who meet reasonable criteria. That includes being a collective garden operator who is 21 years or older, has maintained a business license, has a history of paying relevant taxes, has no criminal history and the premise is situated away from schools, playgrounds and other similar buildings.
Retail recreational applicants who receive a license may opt to sell to the general public, only medical patients or both.
In July 2011, the county commissioners voted for a moratorium on collective gardens. The regulations were approved in 2013 and were implemented.
County officials said the main difference in the law is that collectives must register with state and a provider has to grow in his or her residence. The provider must be a medical marijuana patient as well.
Commissioner Sheldon said he wanted to see what other counties were doing before allowing cooperatives in the county.
“I’m concerned Mason County is becoming a magnet for marijuana,” Sheldon said.
Shelton said Mason County is No. 5 in marijuana processing and producing. He also voiced concern about the cluster of marijuana retailers and medical pot operations on state Route 3 in Belfair.
He asked for a moratorium before Friday to decide if the county wants to regulate them beyond what the state requires.
Commissioner Jeffreys agreed saying, “I’m in favor of a slow process.”
Jeffreys said at the same time she wanted to make sure medicine is still available to marijuana patients.