By Marcy Stamper
The moratorium on new marijuana farms was lifted by the Okanogan County commissioners, who elected on Monday (Feb. 26) to adopt recommendations by the county’s cannabis committee as interim controls until the planning commission reviews the matter.
The committee’s recommendations include a ban on outdoor farms in neighborhood commercial zones. Indoor operations in those areas would require a conditional-use permit. All cannabis farms, indoors and outdoors, in city-expansion areas would also need a conditional-use permit, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.
In unincorporated areas of the county, which includes much of the Methow Valley, the permit requirements vary, with cannabis farms permitted outright everywhere but in high-density areas. People wanting to start a new farm in a high-density area would have to go through an administrative review, said Huston.
Existing farms have until January 2021 to comply with new regulations regarding fencing and downcast lighting. They would not have to move if they are already in an area where new farms are prohibited, said Huston.
Hemp could only be grown in the minimum-requirement district, a zone that exists only on the Colville Reservation, said Huston.
The county’s approach to permitting for marijuana businesses has evolved since recreational cannabis was legalized in 2012. Initially, the commissioners opted to treat marijuana like any other crop, allowing farms and processing operations to set up anywhere.
After finding that state controls for producers and processors had not been as rigorous as expected, the county began requiring a conditional-use permit. The new regulations further clarify the requirements based on location.
State rules restrict the number and location of retail stores.
The interim controls can remain in place for six months. If the commissioners have not formally adopted final controls after the planning commission reviews the committee’s recommendations, the interim controls can be extended, said Huston.
Huston said the planning commission is likely to review the interim controls at its April meeting. The controls would also have a pubic hearing and an environmental review.