Growers required to discuss compliance
Okanogan County’s moratorium on new cannabis farms and the expansion of existing farms will remain in effect for another six months.
The ordinance also requires growers to meet with the county to be sure they’re in compliance with county regulations. The Okanogan County commissioners unanimously extended the moratorium after a public hearing on Monday (Feb. 28).
Before voting on the extension, the commissioners said they wanted to be sure that the county has made progress on goals in the moratorium since it was first adopted in August 2021.
Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer told the commissioners that county planners have met with 54 growers, both single operators and sublessees, to review their site plans and licenses, but that 32 still haven’t met with the county. Another five operations have closed, Palmer said. The meetings have been very positive and helpful for growers and property owners, Palmer said.
The moratorium states that growers that don’t provide their current license and site plan will have their permits revoked. The deadline for the meetings is April 1.
The county has also taken steps to improve coordination with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, creating a review process for all new license applications. In the past, the state has issued licenses for whatever address the applicant provided, but some addresses are incorrect or don’t exist, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said.
The new approach will provide a better accounting of the cannabis farms operating in the county, Palmer said. Since cannabis was legalized in 2014, some growers obtained a permit but were never heard from again, even if they expanded significantly, she said.
Three people submitted written comments, but no one testified at the hearing.
The owner of a cannabis farm opposed the moratorium, saying it negatively affects producers who are in compliance. “Unfortunately the moratorium has done very little to discourage those who would flout the regulations and so far has prevented many of us from building up our businesses here in Okanogan county these past months,” he said.
Another said a blanket moratorium and indiscriminate prohibitions create collateral damage on “good faith actors.”
Another writer supported the ban — and urged stronger regulations — to control the unregulated proliferation of these businesses throughout rural areas of the county, “where they do not belong” and have had a negative impact on property values.
Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch listed issues including complaints about odors and lighting. The number of workers commuting to or living at a farm can alter a neighborhood, he said.
The county needs an accurate list of where the operations are, since the state has handed out licenses, sometimes at the wrong address, or has allowed multiple farms to operate on one parcel without tracking the total canopy size, Hover said.
The state has just “rubber-stamped” these businesses, leaving the county to follow up and enforce regulations without any compensation, County Commissioner Jim DeTro said. DeTro said he has heard from ranchers who’ve found a cannabis grow on their property. He said he doesn’t support the use of subleases for growers.
The new ordinance extends the moratorium through August 25.