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Temporary ban on new outdoor pot farms will stay, Spokane County Commission says

FILE - Patrick Bang, co-owner of Bang’s Cannabis Company smells the bud of a maturing organically-grown marijuana plant at a rural farm west of Spokane in December 2016. On Thursday, regional air pollution regulators approved a new fee structure and rules designed to support enforcement of nuisance odor laws that farmers say adds another burden to an industry still trying to find its footing. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Patrick Bang, co-owner of Bang’s Cannabis Company smells the bud of a maturing organically-grown marijuana plant at a rural farm west of Spokane in December 2016. On Thursday, regional air pollution regulators approved a new fee structure and rules designed to support enforcement of nuisance odor laws that farmers say adds another burden to an industry still trying to find its footing. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A ban on new marijuana farms in Spokane County will be extended as Spokane County takes another look at the issue.

Commissioners upheld a temporary moratorium Tuesday after handing down a temporary ban in a surprise move in November.

“We can adopt a final ordinance at any time,” said Commissioner Al French, adding, “All this allows us to do is keep the dialogue going as we try to find a solution.”

In November, the county commissioners unanimously voted to stop issuing permits for outdoor marijuana farms, citing “a substantial number of complaints” about the smell of growing pot. Any new growing operations will need to be fully enclosed.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency has logged more than 200 complaints since July 2014.

At the time, the item was not put on the commission agenda and was raised as a “miscellaneous item.” The only person present at that meeting was a Spokesman-Review reporter.

French said the temporary moratorium was put in place to spur public input and discussion. That worked, he said, adding, “We had a chamber full of people trying to find a solution.”

Tuesday’s hearing was required to comply with state law, which says a public hearing must be held within 60 days of the adoption of a moratorium or zoning ordinance that didn’t originally receive a public hearing.

More than 25 people addressed the commissioners, with most raising concerns about how the moratorium will affect the booming cannabis industry.

Crystal Oliver owns an outdoor cannabis farm in the county and said the moratorium hurts small farmers like her. She encouraged the board to look at other options to handle odor complaints.

Another small cannabis operator, Samuel Knall, wondered why cannabis couldn’t be regulated in a similar way as pig farming. He encouraged the commissioners to “come to some balanced solution that meets everyone’s needs.”

Others raised concerns about the marijuana industry, both its smell and the impact it has on rural life.

Dan Peeno, who lives between Spokane and Cheney, said the nature of the marijuana industry makes it unsuitable for agricultural and rural areas.

“This is not your father’s farm, nor your grandpa’s farm. The sky is lit up, it looks like the Las Vegas strip,” he said. “This thing belongs with asphalt plants and rendering plants. It just does.”

Roger Bertsch, whose property value fell 10 percent because of the smell from nearby Bang’s Cannabis, was happy that the commissioners will look at the issue again.

“There are solutions to this problem, and it may cost money,” he said.

Scott Kramer, the CEO of Bang’s, said he’s more than willing to work with neighbors to limit the smell. He believes the complaints, most of which have been filed against Bang’s, isn’t about clean air.

“Some of this is about the pure moral objection of us being there,” he said.

Although the commissioners voted unanimously to uphold the temporary moratorium, they expressed concerns as well. Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn called the vote a “process issue.” The commissioners had to take some kind of action by Jan. 27.

“I don’t feel that the current ordinance addresses the issues,” she said.

Commissioner Josh Kerns added, “We need, and we want, your input and ideas as we move forward so please stay engaged with us.”

The workshop is scheduled for Feb. 8. Until Jan. 31, the commissioners ask for written public input proposing possible solutions. Those can be sent to the county clerk’s office.



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