The land-use fight in the Okanogan continues, as county officials decide the fate of farmers at an upcoming Commissioners meeting on July 12, 2016 at 3:00p.m. in the Commissioners Auditorium in the Virginia Grainger Building in Okanogan, WA. We need to fill the room again, so please spread the word!
WSIA core message to Commissioners:
We request that County Commissioners accept the recommendations of the Planning Commission, with the exception of 1-3 below and to continue supporting the cannabis industry.
The Planning Commissioners have submitted their recommendations for regulating cannabis operations to the County Commissioners. The recommendations consist of a compromise giving Commissioners the political cover they need to address citizen concerns, while holding the industry accountable to regulations that already apply to their operations. The following are additional considerations we are asking the Commissioners to explore.
1) The definition of agriculture needs to include cannabis.
Okanogan originally allowed marijuana operations to be classified as an agriculture crop, which awarded right to farm protections and allowed permitted use in zones where agriculture is permitted. The county is now trying to reverse their previous decision by stating that “Farming industrial hemp is agriculture. Farming cannabis, cannabis products, and cannabis operations are not agriculture”. There are many reasons it is critical to have cannabis declared agriculture (like pesticide regulation, WSDA involvement, right to farm protections, lab testing…etc.), but the most important is that local municipalities are upholding bans and moratoria by diminishing our land-use rights by not allowing agricultural status.
The WSIA is asking Commissioners to define growing of all Cannabis plants as agriculture.
2) Request for an Administrative Conditional Use Process (CUP).
The WSIA supports the application of the CUP, as it is spelled out in the planning commissioners recommendations, because cannabis operators are already subject to the WACs and RCWs sited. However, it must be made clear that we want an administrative CUP, not a full CUP. The difference is that the administrative CUP is administered by the Planning Director, while appeals are made to the Hearing Examiner. The full CUP is administrated by the Hearing Examiner.
Unfortunately, the process in Okanogan has not been established to implement an administrative CUP, and will require an amendment to the County Code.
The WISA is asking Commissioners to make an amendment to County Code to establish an Administrative Conditional Use Process, then award the cannabis industry an administrative CUP pathway.
3) Hemp to be included in the CUP Process.
With so much reefer mad regulation and general misinformation about the cannabis industry, the WSIA is trying to help educate local municipalities about the pros and cons of industrial hemp production. We believe that local authorities who proactively begin planning for hemps arrival will avoid the kind of legal and regulatory challenges they are currently facing. The best way to do this is to understand the differences in the market segments, and to put adequate spacing between operations, using the best science available. We do not need to agree now about what that separation needs to be, nor the conditions upon which hemp co-exists with outdoor cannabis production, but we all agree that it needs to happen to avoid cross-pollination. If Hemp is treated as agriculture and recreational cannabis is not, then hemp will be considered permitted use in every zone, and are exempt from conditions (including separation requirements).
The WSIA requests that Commissioners understand that hemp is also cannabis sativa, and should be included in the administrative CUP.
As you know, the situation is Okanogan would be devastating to the industry if Commissioners vote to uphold the ban, or do not allow operators to move forward in compliance. In several counties, operators who disregard local land-use and code regulations are now being subjected to financial, civil, and criminal penalties. Operators are continually being required to relocate or being forced to shut down. County officials across the state are watching the Okanogan situation very closely, and many once favorable 502-counties are reconsidering their policies. 60% of our state is still under some sort of ban or moratoria, and if Okanogan does not allow pathways for the majority of our 68 operators to continue moving forward, the results could be devastating for the states legalization effort.
It is imperative that every operator be present for these land-use decisions (which includes EVERY operator in the Okanogan) so attend the July 12th meeting and testify!
The WSIA has worked diligently with County Officials to propose sensible regulation that would allow the majority of operators to continue operating in the Okanogan. Now we need your support. We need to fill the room again on July 12th, with solid testimony, and a consistent message. The room can hold 500 people and we need to fill it to capacity. Spread the word to everyone in your rolodex or in your social media network, encourage employees and suppliers to testify, and remember to remain civil and not get worked up by the ‘concerned citizens’, who are gaining in strength. This is an election year and there is an unprecedented amount of people running against the current commissioners. When we fill a room of voters, especially ones who make such an economic impact, then we can make a difference.
Information regarding the proposal can be obtained from: Okanogan County Office of Planning and Development, Angie Hubbard, Planner II, 123 5th Avenue North, Suite 130 Okanogan, WA 98840 (509)422-7160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A copy of the revised zone code draft transmitted from the Planning Commission on June 16, 2016 and the FEIS may be viewed on the Okanogan County Planning Department website beginning June 30,
2016 at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. Verbal testimony will be taken with a time limit of 3 minutes per speaker. Written comments may be submitted at the hearing. Written comments will be accepted prior to the hearing and may be submitted in writing or electronically to Lalena Johns, Clerk of the Board, at 123 5th Ave N Ste.150, Okanogan, WA 98840 or at email@example.com.
We will also send out more information to our members and post supporting documentation on the WSIA website at: washingtonsungrowers.org
Thank you for your participation in the process.
WSIA Interim Executive Director