EditorialsTake a deep breath

The rapid development of a marijuana industry in Washington state has created both opportunities and problems.

Marketplace forces and entrepreneurial energy pretty much guaranteed that the businesses of growing, processing, distributing and selling marijuana would evolve quickly along traditional capitalistic lines: round up financing, make something the public wants, sell it for a profit, and hone your competitive strategies to protect and expand your niche.

That was a fairly predictable outcome of legalizing recreational marijuana as a retail commodity. But even as the state was figuring out how to regulate what had heretofore been un-regulateable, inevitable uncertainties remained. Now some of the consequences of opening up a new business frontier are emerging along with its expansion. Most of them have to do with the physical impacts of marijuana production as opposed to philosophical and political wrangling over its virtues.

In most of the Methow Valley and Okanogan County, marijuana-growing facilities may not affect you unless they’re nearby — and then the impact can be profound. The “grows” are big, ugly, brightly lighted and generally a visual blight. They look like prisoner-of-war camps or auto junkyards. Despite security procedures, they may attract people with illegal intent. In Winthrop, both a grow operation and a retail store in the Horizon Flats neighborhood have been burglarized. Pot selling is now legal, but pot stealing isn’t.

Figuring out how to deal with those and other impacts has, to a large extent, been left to local jurisdictions — which is why the Okanogan County commissioners believe it’s necessary to impose a six-month moratorium on new marijuana operations while the county contemplates tougher controls under a new zoning code.

The commissioners are calling a time out, and we think that’s a good idea.

One intent of the moratorium is to prevent anyone from hurrying to get in under the existing regulations before new zoning provisions take place. The moratorium doesn’t apply to people who have already completed their infrastructure or have begun to build.

Proposed changes to the zoning code would give neighbors more say in whether or under what conditions are grow site would be allowed. They should have that opportunity.

Every emerging industry has bumped up against similar issues, which is why we have things like clean air and clean water laws, appropriate zoning and operational controls. In the long run, being good neighbors will benefit marijuana growers. Commissioner Ray Campbell said in a Methow Valley News story last week that he’s hoping for reasonable conditions. That sounds like a reasonable approach.

Can’t force it

Winthrop and Twisp are both experiencing — again — the difficulty of hiring qualified police officers to work in small, rural, remote towns where the pay usually doesn’t compare to what experienced officers can get in larger markets.

Twisp is seeking a “lateral” hire — an officer who already has some experience — but is having trouble drawing applicants. Winthrop, which has been without its own police force for several months while it tries to fill two vacancies, got as far as running a couple of candidates through thorough background checks — which turned out unsatisfactory. That’s a disappointment, but better than living with the results of marginal hires.

Winthrop is starting its hiring process all over. Twisp may consider hiring a promising candidate who would need to go through the state police academy to become a sworn officer; Winthrop may do the same. As any police chief will tell you, the challenge then is to keep that person around for long enough to justify the expense of training before they become a lateral hire in another town’s police department.

It’s a frustrating situation for town officials and residents alike, but short-changing the process for the sake of expediency would be a mistake. Making good, defensible decisions on police officer hires requires patience, persistence and common sense — all of which the Methow Valley possesses in abundance.

— Don Nelson