By Marcy Stamper
The moratorium on new marijuana farms in the county that’s been in place since last June is up for reconsideration since it’s currently set to expire on March 5.
During the ban on new grows, a cannabis committee with five representatives from the marijuana industry and five from the general public has been meeting regularly to address concerns about where farms can be located and what regulations are needed to control lights, odor and fencing. The committee is also tasked with clarifying guidelines so that cannabis businesses have more certainty to plan and expand, according to its charter.
When recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, Okanogan County decided to treat it like any other type of agriculture but began requiring a conditional-use permit in 2016 after hearing concerns from the public and finding that state controls had not been as rigorous as expected.
The cannabis committee is close to finalizing its recommendations to the commissioners, which would create a mix of permitted, prohibited and conditional zones for farms, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. The committee is considering a ban on farms in high-density neighborhoods and commercial zones, he said.
The committee has focused on concerns including odor, security fences, impacts of lighting, and signage. They’ve also worked to tailor regulations to indoor and outdoor grows, which have different needs.
Recommendations under consideration include a schedule for existing businesses to come into compliance with some new regulations, particularly with regard to fencing. The group has also considered provisions for industrial hemp.
The moratorium was initially imposed on all new operations to grow, process or sell marijuana, but the ban on new stores and processing operations was lifted in July.
Since recreational marijuana was legalized by Washington voters in 2014, more than 100 licensed farms have sprung up in Okanogan County.
The county commissioners are holding a public hearing on whether to lift or extend the moratorium. They can also elect to end the moratorium and use the committee’s recommendations as interim controls, said Huston.
Once the committee has finalized its recommendations, the county’s planning commission will hold public hearings on the proposals. The draft code changes will undergo an environmental review before the county commissioners take action on it.
The public hearing on the moratorium is Monday (Feb. 26) at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. People may provide up to three minutes of verbal testimony or submit written comments to Laleña Johns at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact Huston at (509) 422-7218 or email@example.com.