Will review existing regs
Okanogan County has imposed a six-month moratorium on new cannabis farms and the expansion of existing farms while it reviews current regulations, including the number of grows that can be located on a single parcel.
There is no coordination between the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), which issues licenses to growers, and the county, which has its own permit and zone requirements, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said.
The WSLCB issues licenses in tiers, which govern the size of a farm, but the state asks only for an address and doesn’t look at parcel information. In recent years, property owners in the county have been subleasing “suites” to multiple growers, meaning that the state may license multiple grows on a single parcel, without any accounting for the size of the parcel or the aggregate size of the individual grows, Hover said.
The size of the farm is restricted by the state license, but there’s nothing restricting how many licenses are allowed on a single parcel, Hover said. The state issues licenses in three tiers. Tier 1 is less than 4,000 square feet; tier 2 is 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, and tier 3 is 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.
Often, the multiple grows are within touching distance, creating large tracts of farms. Many of the sublessors don’t live here and have no ties to the county, Hover said. “The state does not care,” he said.
The state licenses the farm, but the county permits the land use, Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer said. Each grow must have an approved site plan that shows the entire operation — the total acreage and all the components, including outbuildings, hoop houses, greenhouses, worker housing, and water source, Palmer said. But they’re finding that some farms have expanded beyond their permit, she said.
The WSLCB also issues cannabis operations for an address without verifying with the county whether cannabis farms are permitted in that zone, Hover said. WSLCB instructs license applicants to contact the local jurisdiction about regional permits and requirements.
The county wants to allow cannabis farming, but wants to be sure it’s done properly, Hover said.
Okanogan County has added requirements for cannabis farms since the state began issuing licenses in 2013. Initially, the county imposed no regulations and treated cannabis like any other crop. The county has since added requirements for lighting, fencing and noise, and has prohibited grows in high-density residential areas.
The moratorium will give the county time to evaluate the impacts of existing cannabis operations on the environment and on property owners, according to the ordinance, which was approved unanimously on Aug. 24.
The ordinance also requires existing growers to meet with the Okanogan County Planning Department by Jan. 1, 2022. Growers who don’t meet the county’s requirements for licensing and site plans will have their permits revoked, according to the ordinance.
The moratorium is in effect until Feb. 24, 2022. The county is holding a public hearing on the moratorium, ordinance 2021-9, on Monday, Oct. 11, at 1:30 p.m.