Whitman County commissioners extend marijuana moratorium

Some express concern about impact on farm, air quality for residents


BENJAMIN WHITE, Evergreen reporter

The Whitman County commissioners voted to extend the moratorium on marijuana in the county and expect to be able to lift it after they finish zoning ordinances Tuesday.

The moratorium allows established businesses to continue operations but prohibits new marijuana-related businesses starting or current businesses from expanding.

The county commissioners voted for the moratorium because a new marijuana farm was going to be built on Country Club Road, and residents had concerns about the air quality.

“They’re pretty vocal, which I get that. They’re family people and small children, and they’re concerned about the impacts on their families,” said Mark Storey, Whitman County public works director.

The moratorium has been extended for six months, and they expect the planning commission to finish zoning ordinances in about three months, Storey said. Once those rules are finished, the moratorium will be lifted.

“If we’re unable to create an ordinance, then they are still considering an outright ban for new substances in the future,” Storey said. “That’s still on the table.”

David Gang, WSU professor in the institute of biological chemistry, said the marijuana farms harvest every couple of weeks, and often the smell travels long distances.

The WSU dairy, which is located across the road from the proposed location of the new farm, also has concerns about air quality and marijuana.

Air quality is a concern when because there are some varieties of cheeses that are dependent upon the cows breathing air with specific compounds, Gang said.

There is a concern that the compounds marijuana releases into the air could affect the quality of the dairy products that WSU produces, including Cougar Gold Cheese, Gang said.

“Nobody’s actually tested this, so we don’t really know the actual impact. It could be that it’s not very significant, or it could be that it is very significant,” he said.

Cheese produced by the university is aged a minimum of one year, and sometimes longer, so it is a long-term situation, Gang said.

Cheese is a major source of income for the department, he said.

“There are lots of reasons why keeping the dairy operating the best that we can is of interest to the department,” he said.

The issue of the smell is important for residents that live on that road and marijuana growers interested in breeding varieties that don’t have that scent, Gang said.

“It’s definitely the center point to the discussion because of the impact the smell may have,” he said.

Storey said the moratorium was extended to give the planning commission time to finish zoning rules for the new marijuana-related businesses.

“Trying to figure out if there’s a way to keep nuisances from affecting nearby people while trying to still allow people to have private property rights to grow marijuana,” Storey said.

He said if marijuana farms are near homes, it is a nuisance to those residents. They would have no choice but to live with the smells that come from the facility.

Gang said WSU is beginning new research testing how far compounds from cannabis travel from the cannabis farm. He said they were surprised because as far as he could find, no one has ever done this type of research.

Hemp is also something to keep in mind, he said. There are varieties of hemp that have the same compounds as marijuana, apart from having a THC level of 0.3 percent or less.

This information could be helpful in deciding where they should allow cannabis and hemp, Gang said.

“We think that will be useful information that can help guide policy and lawmaking,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been modified to clarify that although the WSU Creamery ages some cheese for three years, it is sold beginning after one year of aging.