Locals push to regulate marijuana facilities

Citizens For A Healthy Palouse submit petition for stricter rules for growers, processors



Kathleen Lloyd, a proponent of the petition, says the drafted zoning regulations will not keep the smell of marijuana from homes nearby. Residents have also expressed concerns over the farms’ potential water usage.

BENJAMIN WHITE, Evergreen reporter

Citizens For A Healthy Palouse, a local organization advocating for stricter rules on marijuana grow and processing facilities, recently submitted a petition to the Whitman County commissioners asking for stricter regulations for marijuana growers and processors in the county.

“The petition asks for regulations for air and water and then not allow new ones [marijuana businesses] in because we don’t have any way to enforce the regulations,” said Kathleen Lloyd, Whitman County citizen and proponent of the petition.

The County commissioners established a moratorium Sept. 3 to prohibit any new marijuana businesses and the expansion of marijuana businesses that are already here.

This moratorium will last until the commissioners establish zoning rules aimed at protecting property rights for both marijuana growers and citizens that live near marijuana businesses.

Lloyd voiced concerns that the zoning regulations the county is drafting will not be effective in keeping the smell of marijuana harvests away from homes.

“Right now, they’re talking about a 1,000 or 1,500-foot setback from city limits and houses, and that’s still very close,” she said. “It should be at least a mile.”

Lloyd said another concern is how much water marijuana farms use.

“Marijuana is the only crop in our county that is an irrigation crop. Everything else is dry-farmed,” she said.

Over the past several years, there have been statewide battles over water use.

“We’re very concerned about the aquifer and it’s not recharging, and if they’re pulling water out of the ground to water marijuana, then we’re concerned about that being a problem,” Lloyd said.

The county has proposed using conditional use permits, which means if they break the rules then they can have their permits taken away, but there is no accountability for them, Lloyd said.

“Were relying on the industry to regulate themselves which is not wise,” she said.

If there was an enforcement officer to hold the marijuana producers accountable to the regulations, then she could see allowing new businesses into the county, she said.

However, the county has limited resources, so the responsibility of reporting marijuana farms is placed on neighbors. That burden is unfair, she said.

The petition isn’t calling for current businesses to be shut down, but it is asking that no new businesses be established. Even if there are regulations, there won’t be solid enforcement, Lloyd said.

Nicole Lee, Whitman county resident and proponent of the petition, said that allowing marijuana farms to grow as close as 1,500 feet outside of city limits is a detractor for those who are looking to move here.

“We’re trying to get people to come and see and you know, I would like to buy a home, but oh, tomorrow a marijuana farm could grow in my backyard,” she said.

While there are concerns about marijuana, there is also evidence that marijuana is beneficial to the county in several ways.

I-502 data, which shows marijuana tax revenue data, reported that in Whitman County there are six marijuana retailers along with 13 producers and processors that pay taxes to Washington State.

The same report showed that in June 2019, Whitman County marijuana excise tax revenues were over $250,000, and since 2014, Washington State has collected over $7 million in excise tax revenue from Whitman County.

Along with tax revenue, marijuana-related businesses provide jobs for locals.

Both the right to clean air afforded by the Clean Air Act and the right to grow, sell and process marijuana afforded by I-502 provide rights to citizens of Washington that the county wants to preserve.

“They’re all property rights, but you have two sides of the discussion,” said Mark Storey, Whitman County Public Works director. “Those that don’t like it there because it might affect their quality of life and those who want to grow it because they believe that might provide them with some financial assurance, some income.”

He said the commissioners are trying to balance property rights in Whitman County.

*This article has been updated to correctly state that Washington State has collected over $7 million in excise tax revenue from Whitman County.