SPOKANE, Wash. – It is an issue that Spokane County and the Spokane Regional Agency have been wrestling with for months – outdoor marijuana growing and what to do about the many who have filed complaints with the county over the smell.
Local cannabis farms feel blindsided that an ordinance like this was never added to the commissioners’ agenda before the moratorium was put in place.
“Passing an emergency ordinance to an industry that is employing hundreds of people in Spokane County is maybe a misstep on our county commissioners,” Crystal Oliver, the owner of Washington’s Finest Cannabis.
As winter blankets the ground, the field may not look like much right now.
“Outdoor cannabis farming is more sustainable is requires less energy and waste,” Oliver said.
Full bloom for cannabis farms like Oliver’s in Spokane County is on the horizon. With a successful 2016 season, she will not get to expand like she is looking to do in the near future due to a new, county-wide moratorium on growing marijuana outdoors.
“Right now, I am standing in a hoop house at Kush comfort farms. I myself plan on expanding this coming spring to include structures like this, but I would need to expand in order to do that, but this ordinance I wouldn’t be able to do that as it is written,” she said.
For now, Oliver will be able to operate as normal, but new or expanding outdoor growing cannabis farms are put on hold – and the county is still deciding exactly what the new rules will be.
“We are learning and as we learn, we adjust,” Spokane County Commissioner Al French said.
The temporary moratorium comes from a three ring binder.
“Full of complaints,” French said, “200 complaints on 44 facilities.”
Some of the complaints read as follows.
“I can’t even open a window at night to sleep because of odor.” Another complaint read “when my wife and I go jogging it is a solid stink for at least a 1,000 feet in each direction.”
French said he is surprised by how many odor complaints there have been. He said they pour in every day.
“Obviously the safety margin we have is not adequate so we are looking for a solution,” he said.
French said the complaints are what most people see on the surface of this issue, but it goes much deeper. The county partners with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.
In 2016 alone, they said together they have spent nearly $250,000 in dealing with complaints and public health with this issue.
“Majority of voters were inside the cities where the outdoor grows don’t happen,” French said. “Out in an unincorporated area where the grows happen, they voted overwhelmingly not to support the measure so they are the ones that are having to deal with the impacts, unintended, with the industry.”
French said his job is to protect the industry and the property owners – ones that found themselves next door to a business they never supported in the first place.
“Our goal is to find a solution not to stop the economic development not to stop the industry, but to find a solution,” French said.
Josh Zarestky and Daniel Harrington are co-owners of Kush Comfort Farms. They said they feel all this buzz will hurt the industry throughout the state.
“We are the most populous area on this side of the state that has sunshine,” Zaretsky said.
The farmers said this side of the state is some of the prime weather for outdoor growing of marijuana and they are concerned if something passes through and they cannot expand that it is going to damage the industry here in Washington state.
“When you start to negatively impact your neighbors, there are repercussions associated with that,” French said.
Kush Comfort Farms is able to grow year round – they are an indoor facility. Zaretsky said it is not nearly as cost effective as growing outdoors and a lot of farms cannot afford it starting out.
“We’re less concerned for ourselves as a business and more concerned for the industry for Spokane County,” Zaretsky said.
Zaretsky said with the possibility of putting more regulations growing marijuana outdoors, it will only benefit illegal operations.
Spokane County is planning on holding a public meeting around January 10 to get feedback from anyone who wants their ideas on how to find a solution on this issue.