By Marcy Stamper

The Okanogan County commissioners have extended a moratorium on new marijuana operations through the end of June to prevent people from getting in under current rules. The commissioners are considering stricter controls in a new zoning code that is under review.

The resolution, adopted on May 3, states that the county’s planning commission has made “substantial progress” reviewing the draft zone code and expects to adopt a new code by the end of June.

The planning commission held two hearings about the zone code, where the majority of testimony was about proposed changes that would affect the marijuana industry. The first hearing, in March, drew such high interest that it nearly had to be rescheduled, until about 100 people voluntarily left or waited outside the commissioners’ hearing room. The commissioners took more testimony at a continued hearing in April, which also attracted a large number of speakers.

Since then, the county has received three formal suggestions for how to regulate marijuana in its new zoning code. The planning commission is studying the recommendations, which include requirements for a legal water right and for buffers to protect neighboring properties from light, odor or noise.

Until the moratorium, the county has treated marijuana like any other type of crop. The commissioners believed the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board would implement adequate regulations, but said the policies had been lax and complaints and incomplete license applications created extra work for county staff.

As required by law, the commissioners held a public hearing on the moratorium. About 20 people spoke, offering a range of ideas from lifting the moratorium to enacting one with stricter rules, according to Perry Huston, the county’s planning director.

The commissioners believe the moratorium is still necessary to keep additional marijuana operations from becoming established as “nonconforming uses” that may prove incompatible with new land-use regulations, according to the resolution.

The moratorium will be rescinded when the revised zone code is adopted.

If the zone code is not adopted by July as planned, the commissioners can extend the moratorium another six months, provided they hold another public hearing, said Huston.