Okanogan County is proposing to extend a moratorium on new cannabis farms and the expansion of existing farms to meet with growers to be sure they’re in compliance with the county’s permit regulations. The extension will also allow the county to review current regulations, including the number of grows that can be located on a single parcel.
Since the county first required growers to present their license and site plan, Okanogan County Planning has met with 35 growers, but there are still about 50 to go, Planning Director Pete Palmer told the county commissioners on Monday (Jan. 24). The new deadline would be April 1.
The county has been meeting with six or seven growers each week, Palmer said. The deadline was extended by 45 days because it conflicted with the harvest.
Palmer is compiling a list of issues raised in the meetings with the growers. Once they have talked with all the growers, she hopes to meet with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) to develop a more coordinated process between the state and county for licensing and cannabis grows.
The county imposed the six-month moratorium in August 2021 because the state had been issuing licenses to growers without checking or coordinating with the county about its permit and zone requirements, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said last year.
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, Okanogan County property owners have been subleasing “suites” to multiple growers, meaning that the state may license multiple grows on a single parcel, without 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. Often, multiple grows are so close they create large tracts of farms.
The state also issues licenses to cannabis operations for an address without verifying with the county whether cannabis farms are permitted in that zone.
While the state licenses the farm, the county permits the land use. Each grow must have an approved site plan that shows the entire operation – the total acreage and all the components, Palmer said. Some farms have expanded beyond their permit, she said last year.
Existing grows that don’t provide their current license and site plans to the county will have their permits revoked, and the county will notify WSLCB about the noncompliance. Five grows have been completely shut down, Palmer told the commissioners.
The existing moratorium expires on Feb. 24. The county will hold a public hearing on the revised moratorium. The date hasn’t been set yet.