Spokane County cannabis farmers protest moratorium on new outdoor grows

Before Spokane County Commissioners passed a temporary ban on new cannabis farms, they never heard what Washington farmers thought of the idea.

But now farmers are making sure their voices are heard.

More than a month ago, commissioners purposely passed a temporary ban on new outdoor cannabis farms without telling anyone. The goal, said Commissioner Al French, was to not to attract too much attention that would lead to a rush of aspiring farmers obtaining permits before the ban went into effect.

But not telling anyone the ban was on the agenda also ensured that cannabis farmers would not show up to express their opposition to the move. So now, that’s exactly what cannabis farmers are doing. In an effort to force the county to change its mind on the six-month moratorium for new outdoor pot farms, the Cannabis Farmers Council wrote a letter to commissioners French, Shelly O’Quinn and Josh Kerns today that accompanied a 14-page report explaining how the moratorium will hurt the local industry.

“The positive economic benefits of cannabis farming to the county are significant, and any measure to stifle its growth will have a negative, and in many cases, severe impact on hundreds and perhaps thousands of local businesses,” says the letter, signed by 12 members of the Cannabis Farmers Council.

The letter, along with the report titled “Cannabis Farming in Spokane County: An Overview of Local Cannabis Farming, Its Economic Impact, & Zoning Recommendations,” is addressed to the three Spokane county commissioners. Crystal Oliver, one of the farmers council board members, prepared the report in advance of a public hearing for feedback on the ordinance that will take place Tuesday, Jan. 10. Oliver says she hopes it will be reviewed by commissioners before then, or at least becomes part of the record of responses received by the commissioners.

The report surveyed responses from 30 of the 147 cannabis farmers in the county, and a majority of those surveyed were outdoor farmers. The report says 86 percent of existing cannabis farmers in the county were “adversely impacted” by the temporary ban, citing that the ban put up a barrier for plans to expand an outdoor farm, to move to another location, and for indoor farmers to expand to include outdoor cultivation. It recommends the county permit outdoor cultivation and increase minimum parcel size for outdoor grows.

A main reason the county said it passed the ban was because of the high number of marijuana-related odor complaints from people living near outdoor cannabis farms. The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency says it received 203 such complaints since July 2014. But nearly half of those are about one farm in particular.

The Cannabis Farmers Council letter calls the complaints lodged about the odor “overblown,” and characterizes the complaints as a “concerted and targeted effort by a few individuals to push an anti-cannabis agenda under the guise of an air quality concern.”

“With all due respect,” says the letter, “such complaints in a rural setting really should not be taken seriously given the multitude of stronger and much more objectionable odors that are an everyday occurrence anywhere that farms and ranches are located.”

View the full letter and report here.