A battle over the rights of marijuana businesses to operate in Spokane County could be brewing within the agency that oversees regulations on air pollution.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart sought appointment to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency this year after that board approved new regulations and fees in an attempt to cover the costs of enforcing nuisance odors. Stuckart said he was motivated by a desire to shift the agency’s focus away from “the odors of agriculture” to other types of air pollution.
“I find it fascinating that a bunch of conservative Republicans want to completely regulate and tax an industry to death,” said Stuckart, who has led the charge for a city law allowing the erasure of misdemeanor convictions tied to marijuana and has defended the rights of stores to sell downtown.
The new rules, passed by the Clean Air Agency in January before Stuckart joined the panel, took effect Thursday. They require the payment of registration fees by all marijuana growers and processors throughout the county to pay the pollution agency for what it says have been rapidly increasing expenses to keep up with the complaints caused by marijuana odors.
The fees are more expensive for large outdoor grows, which organization members say are the source of most nuisance odor complaints.
Spokane County adopted a moratorium on outdoor grow operations, which later was lifted in favor of a conditional permitting process that varied by farm. The city of Spokane has no prohibition on outdoor grows, but there aren’t any permanent ones within city limits, according to the city’s planning department.
Spokane County Commissioner Al French, a Republican who is the chairman of the Clean Air Agency’s board, said the motivation behind the panel’s actions wasn’t partisan. Besides French, other members of the board are Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins, Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman, at-large member Tom Brattebo and Stuckart as the voting members. The city-elected offices are nonpartisan.
“The board has been pretty unanimous that people have a right to own their property and enjoy their property as the Constitution provided,” French said.
“If he (Stuckart) joined to defend the industry, then maybe this is the wrong place for him to do that,” French said.
Stuckart said he was told by the Clean Air Agency’s legal counsel he would have to resign as an adviser to the Cannabis Farmers Council, a coalition of local growers who opposed the new regulations imposed by the pollution agency. Stuckart said he would do so to continue serving on the clean air panel.
The Spokane City Council confirmed Stuckart’s appointment to the Clean Air Agency board last month. He took over for Carmen Nezat, an environmental sciences professor at Eastern Washington University whose appointment to the panel expired at the end of last year.
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