By Marcy Stamper
Despite some uncertainty surrounding the development of a legal marijuana industry, the county commissioners’ distaste for regulation prevailed as they voted unanimously not to require special permits for people who want to grow, process or sell cannabis in the county.
At their hearing on Monday (Dec. 9), the commissioners heard from six people, all opposed to requiring a conditional-use permit (CUP) for any marijuana business in unincorporated Okanogan County, including the Methow Valley. As a result, people who want to start marijuana operations will fall under the currently permitted activities zoned for most of the county, which allows farms for all crops.
Some activities are already subject to a conditional-use permit, including produce stands in the Methow Valley, and the processing of marijuana may be considered an industrial activity, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston at the hearing. But with the commissioners’ decision, marijuana won’t be treated differently from any other crop or retail operation, he said.
After taking testimony that highlighted the potential economic benefit to the county and the rigorous tracking and oversight already imposed by the state, the commissioners each voiced their discomfort with regulation.
“There are already background checks, labeling, security systems,” said County Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy. “It’s hard to know how people will comply with the regulations already in the law. It’s hard to imagine what regulations we can add.”
One speaker said he had already spent more than $10,000 on infrastructure and labor in the county in conjunction with plans for a marijuana operation here. Another received applause when she said she had seen agriculture succumb to excessive permit requirements in California and didn’t want to see that happen in Okanogan County.
The county planning commissioners heard from a larger group last week — a minority opposed to the conditional-use permit, primarily out of concern for youths — before recommending against the permit. A CUP would have entailed an environmental review, notification of neighbors and a public hearing.
In addition to the planning commission’s recommendation and input from the public, the commissioners attended a half-day seminar for county officials at a recent statewide meeting, said County Commissioner Jim DeTro. They were advised to pay attention to the voter-approved initiative legalizing recreational marijuana and to deal with it in a reasonable manner, he said.
The commissioners noted that the county’s zoning ordinance will be reviewed after the comprehensive plan is adopted — most likely next year — which will provide an opportunity to update it to incorporate zoning applicable to marijuana if desired. They also noted that any decision about a marijuana operation could be open to appeal.
License applications are stacking up
The state is accepting applications for licenses for marijuana producers, processors and retailers through Dec. 20. Thus far, 53 applications for growers and processors have been submitted for Okanogan County, more than half seeking to participate in both phases of the industry. Five list locations in the Methow Valley.
Two entities have applied to be retailers in the county, one for an address on Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop.
Washington has received 1,700 total applications as of this week.