Grant County considers new cannabis rules

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald County resident Diane Russo tells planning officials the extents she has to go – including wearing a gas mask outdoors – to cope with the noxious odors of a nearby marijuana grow.

EPHRATA — The Grant County Planning and Zoning Commission is considering ways to limit the growth and processing of marijuana in Grant County.

And central to the county’s approach is a measure in the state’s tax code that does not consider marijuana an “agricultural product.”

“This is considered an industrial use, and that’s very important,” said Commission Chair Bill Bailey.

County Planning Director Damien Hooper is proposing new regulations that would limit marijuana cultivation and processing to heavy and light industrial areas and to sparsely populated, remote rural areas of non-irrigated farmland. Marijuana growing and processing would be forbidden in any kind of residential areas, including the 5-acre parcels.

The regulations would only apply on county land. Cities are still free to permit or restrict as they see fit.

Currently, while the state licenses marijuana growers, processors, and sellers, the Liquor and Cannabis Board considers zoning a local issue and has been approving production permits regardless of where a marijuana grow is situated.

Which has led to complaints about the smell, especially during harvest time.

“What is smell? An inconvenience or a health issue?” asked Diane Russo, who lives on Stonecrest Road just behind one contention grow on Neppel Road.

Russo told commissioners that during harvest time, the smell emanating from the nearby pot patch was “hellacious” and left her “spinning.” She said she took to wearing a gas mask with carbon filters when she went outside to mow her lawn or feed her horses.

“It’s really an issue for people with unique scenarios,” she said.

Hooper said the proposed regulations would subject marijuana production to a site plan review, subject production and processing facilities to zoning and building standards, be set back significantly from property boundaries, that no greenhouse or grow building be in or attached to a dwelling, that growers have a legal source of water, and that odors from marijuana production not be detectable at the property line.

“We have general development standards that deal with objectionable odor, and this is a little more specific,” Hooper said.

However, Hooper said the county will not be able to use water as a tool to regulate marijuana production, since current state law allows holders of exempt wells to draw 5,000 gallons-per-day for industrial uses.

Currently, while marijuana growers, processors, and retailers have to go through a background check and meet state standards for any production facility, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is leaving it to the counties to deal with zoning and building permits.

“Folks with licenses can get a review from us at any point to make sure they don’t have any problems,” Hooper said, noting that the proposed review process was not going to be another necessary permit.

“We don’t want one more permit process,” he said.

Steven McCombs, who grows marijuana in Quincy, said that complaints to the state are an important part of the process of holding producers accountable and keeping marijuana production in this state reputable.

“License renewal is not automatic,” he said. “There’s an investigation, and complaints matter. If there’s a problem, tell the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for the proposed marijuana regulations starting at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18 in the commissioners hearing room in Ephrata.

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