Okanogan County is considering new restrictions as to where marijuana businesses can be located, including changes to fencing requirements and the distance from neighboring properties.
The proposed changes come after a ban imposed last June on new marijuana operations to allow the county’s cannabis advisory committee to study the issue and make recommendations to accommodate both the marijuana industry and the general public.
The county commissioners lifted the moratorium in stages. There was just a brief interruption for new retail outlets, but the ban on new farms was in place for eight months before being lifted in February.
After marijuana was legalized by a voter initiative in 2012, many producers were drawn to Okanogan County because of a decision by the then–county commissioners to treat cannabis like any other crop instead of requiring a conditional-use permit.
So when the state started accepting applications for marijuana licenses in 2013, “farms for raising all crops” were permitted everywhere in unincorporated Okanogan County. The county soon received complaints about unsightly fences and lights, increased traffic and the impact on quiet, rural roads and land values, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. The most common complaints were about odor, he said.
Under the proposed changes to the zoning code, marijuana farms would be prohibited in residential and high-density areas. They would be permitted in lower-density rural areas, and would require a conditional-use permit in suburban and commercial zones.
The new rules would require outdoor cannabis farms or processors to be at least 2,000 feet from a school unless a topographical feature like a ridgeline, river or highway blocks the view. Even with a natural barrier, the marijuana operation couldn’t be within 1,000 feet of a school.
Indoor grows and processors would have to be at least 100 feet from facilities such as public parks and child care centers. That is closer than the state’s prescription of a 1,000-foot buffer. State rules give local entities the discretion to set narrower buffers, said Huston.
Requirements for fencing have been strengthened and include a list of acceptable materials. The state agreed to allow outdoor grows as long as they were obscured by an 8-foot fence, but some people complained about unsightly, dilapidated fences at some outdoor grows around the county.
The new regulations require fences to be made of neutral tones, from materials alike in shape and color. Oriented-strand board (OSB) and repurposed materials such as tires, fruit crates and rubbish would not be allowed.
Lighting would have to be downcast and shielded from neighboring properties.
All marijuana operations would need to have a legal water source, either from an irrigation district, a water right, or an exempt well, provided the operator could meet the rules for industrial exemptions.
Industrial hemp and marijuana farms would have to be at least 10 miles apart.
The new regulations would initially apply only to new marijuana businesses. Existing operations would have to come into compliance by Jan. 1, 2021.
Huston has found that the new marijuana regulations wouldn’t have a significant effect on the environment.
Information about the proposed regulations is available on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. See the box that begins with “Ordinance OCC 17A.290” below the list of cannabis committee members.
The county’s planning commission is holding a public hearing on the proposed cannabis regulations on Monday, May 14, at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. People can provide up to five minutes of verbal testimony at the hearing, or can submit written comments at the hearing or in advance to Roxanna King at email@example.com.