Commissioners vote to delay cannabis farms

Proponents voice concerns about health; opponents say industry will suffer



Zach Dausener discusses economical merits of opening cannabis production facility on Monday in Whitman County Courthouse.

CARMEN JARAMILLO, Evergreen reporter

Whitman County commissioners voted unanimously to impose a six-month moratorium on new cannabis businesses in unincorporated Whitman County on Monday during a public meeting.

The vote came after several local residents expressed concern over health issues that could arise from having a cannabis farm in the area.

The moratorium is designed to allow the county time to do research into the health effects cannabis farms may have on surrounding residents, said Whitman County Commissioner Art Swannack.

The ordinance will stop any new businesses from opening on unincorporated Whitman County land as well as restrict currently operating businesses from moving or expanding. This includes farms and retail stores.

Public concern about cannabis farms grew over the past several weeks when a new farm was proposed at the corner of Country Club and Flat Road outside of Pullman.

Selway Holdings LLC requested a rezone in order to process cannabis at the site but was met with public backlash about health concerns. This feedback prompted the moratorium, Swannack said.

About 40 or more people attended the Monday meeting to speak in support of and against the proposal before it was voted on by commissioners.

Supporters of the ordinance expressed concerns that Whitman County is becoming a hub for cannabis in Washington state. One large concern was the effects of cannabis terpenes — the molecules that give marijuana its distinct smell and flavor — on public health.

Proponents on both sides cited different research about cannabis terpenes. Some suggested they are harmless, others said the terpenes could contaminate local wildlife or human populations.

Melissa Ryan, a Whitman County resident who lives close to the proposed farm at Country Club and Flat Road, said she is concerned what effect the smell of the cannabis might have on her daughter who suffers from an autoimmune disease.

“We can’t burn candles, we can’t wear perfumes, we can’t wear anything that smells. Smell alone is something that can set off her immune system,” Ryan said. “I have extreme concerns it could infringe on her health even further.”

Opponents of the moratorium said the ordinance may negatively affect the cannabis industry in Whitman County. They said cannabis is no different from other agricultural crops the county has made its name on, like wheat or lentil crops.

Zach Dauscher said he recently moved to Whitman County after receiving a degree in agribusiness because he wanted to work in the growing Washington cannabis industry. He said he chose Whitman County because of its history of strong agricultural support but is sad to see the direction the county is going.

“Why does Whitman County want to turn its back on a young blossoming industry?” Dauscher said. “I’m a young, highly educated person who just wants to work and be an asset to my community.”

There are currently no restrictions in Whitman County on how close a cannabis farm can be to a residence or another farm growing a different crop.

Before voting to approve the moratorium, Swannack and the other commissioners said they believe the move is necessary to get a clear picture on a divisive issue. Research will help the county decide what, if any, restrictions it wants to impose on where cannabis can be grown and processed, Swannack said.

“I’ve heard data from two different sides in this room saying two different things about the same subject,” Swannack said. “That, to me, means we need to do more research before we allow it to continue.”