People growing and packaging marijuana in Spokane County will have to register with the agency policing air pollution under new rules being proposed by regulators.
The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, responsible for local enforcement of state and federal pollution laws, said the rules are in response to a proliferation of odor complaints occurring since commercial production became legal three years ago. But those in the business worry the regulations and associated fees could continue to smother a young industry.
“We are the premier outdoor grow location in the state,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of the agency. “We have significantly more odor complaints.”
The agency reports 489 odor complaints since July 2014, when state laws began permitting the growing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. That’s compared to the 178 odor complaints for the three years prior to legalization. The jump is enough to show the effort is not simply being driven by those who morally object to marijuana, said Kevin Freeman, mayor of Millwood and a board member of the clean air agency.
“What has driven this is, we’ve had enough complaints from a variety of different sources,” he said.
The rules, which include a fee structure requiring businesses to pay the agency based on the size of the operation, were developed after a year of consultation with an advisory group that included marijuana farmers. Those industry voices on the panel said they were still concerned about the additional rules and costs the agency was imposing.
“This just seems like an example of the significant amount of over-regulation that our businesses are seeing,” said Crystal Oliver, a farmer with Washington’s Finest Cannabis, an outdoor grow located north of Spokane, and a member of several pro-marijuana business advocacy groups.
“We kind of get hit from all over the place,” said Joe Edwards, who operates the indoor growing operation Root Down in an industrial area west of town. “It seems like everybody is trying to get a little piece of what we’re doing.”
The rules are different for indoor and outdoor operations, as are the associated fees. All businesses would have to send registration information to the clean air agency and would be subject to random inspections for compliance with plans to reduce wafting scents from crossing property lines. The rules do not lay out in detail what a business needs to do to reduce fumes, but it must stay in compliance with agency rules that prevent the emission of an odor “distinct and definite, any unpleasant characteristics recognizable.”
Under current rules, marijuana growers and processors are required to file paperwork with the agency only if they bought and installed certain equipment, including boilers or generators, that could produce emissions in the process of cultivating marijuana or preparing it for sale as an extract.
Crystal Oliver said the proposed fees, which would range annually from $528 for small-scale, indoor grows up to nearly $5,000 for large-scale outdoor operations using hoop houses rather than enclosed structures such as greenhouses for growing, present significant hurdles.
“A lot of people want a piece of the revenue,” she said. “They think the farmers have a lot of money. We don’t have a lot of money.”
The bigger fees for outdoor farms reflect the additional potential risks of odor pollution for open-air facilities, said Freeman. But Crystal Oliver said the fee structure could be seen as discriminatory to outdoor farmers, who she said operate in a more environmentally responsible way than indoor operations because of the need for artificial light and the creation of more waste products, including soil and fertilizer.
“The reality (is) that we should be able to cultivate this plant outdoors,” she said.
Spokane County commissioners instituted a temporary ban late last year on new outdoor marijuana farms, citing the increasing number of complaints to the clean air agency. That ban was replaced by a permitting process earlier this year that is more restrictive than the zoning rules the county had in place before the ban.
Julie Oliver, of the clean air agency, said existing staff have been diverted from other duties to handle marijuana odor complaints. If the rules are adopted, the agency would look at hiring an additional investigator to handle enforcement. Businesses would be given a year to comply with the new rules, and agency officials would work with producers and processors to meet the new requirements.
It’s also not the first product receiving regulations due to complaints to the agency. In 2000, its board of directors adopted registration rules for coffee roasters based on increasing concerns about odors, Julie Oliver said.
Crystal Oliver anticipated producers and processors would organize to seek changes to the proposed rules, which are up for a vote by the clean air agency’s board of directors when a public comment period ends Dec. 7.
“We’ve had some success engaging with some regulatory agencies to change some of their proposed rules,” she said.
Those wishing to provide comment on the proposed rules, which were scheduled to be posted Wednesday to the clean air agency’s website, SpokaneCleanAir.org, can mail them to Margee Chambers, SRCAA, 3104 E. August Ave., Spokane, WA 99207, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.