COLFAX — A group called Citizens for a Healthy Palouse wants the Whitman County commissioners to permanently ban any new marijuana businesses in the unincorporated parts of the county.
The group submitted a petition to the commissioners Monday with more than 400 signatures in support of the proposal. It cites the “noxious” smell of the plants, the current size of the industry, and concerns about water quality and drug use in general as reasons to prevent any new pot farms, processing facilities or retail businesses from locating here.
“The goal is to regulate what’s already here and not allow any more to come,” said Natalie Fisher, of Pullman, who presented the petition to the commissioners.
The overall smell of the plants, particularly during harvest, was a concern for the group, along with the unknown health effects from the emissions.
Noting the location of one pot retail store at the northern entrance to Pullman, Nicole Lee also suggested that, “as a mother of five kids, that’s not what I want to see at a major entrance to the community.”
Lee also thanked the commissioners for their decision last week to extend a temporary moratorium on marijuana businesses for another six months. The intent is to give the Whitman County Planning Commission more time to consider potential zoning regulations on marijuana operations.
Unlike last week’s hearing, however, most people at Monday’s workshop worked in the industry. While they didn’t object to reasonable regulations, they opposed any effort to permanently ban it.
“I’m a combat veteran and third-year Ph.D. student (at Washington State University),” Joel Velasco said. “I chose this university specifically because of the groundbreaking metabolic work being done here. No one wants to damage the environment or harm communities, but it’s important to recognize the opportunities we have and not allow a loud minority to dominate the discussion.”
Other speakers noted that they might not enjoy the smell of wheat or of cattle yards, but they’re not seeking to ban the operations.
Commissioner Michael Largent said that’s one of the issues the county is struggling with as it tries to decide what regulations are appropriate.
“The question I keep asking is, how is this different from anything else we do land-use regulations on? How is this different than any other crop?” he said.
Commissioner Art Swannack said he spoke with a number of people regarding their views on marijuana during last week’s Palouse Empire Fair.
“What this really comes down to is, does this land use impact neighbors to the point that it needs to be regulated?” he said. “What I heard was, control the smell and any emissions. Other than that, regulate it under state law. So if (the smell) is something we can address, can you live with that?”
Fisher said the answer was yes, “with the caveat that we don’t want so many businesses to keep coming here.”
Lee added a further caveat, noting that “there’s a lot we still don’t know” about the health effects of cannabis.
Whitman County Planner Alan Thomson said the planning commission understands the concerns on both sides of this issue and is trying to address them.
“What we’re working on is containing (water and air) emissions,” he said. For indoor growing operations, “I think we have it nailed down. Outdoors, we’re still working on it. How far away (the fields) should be from other properties, that’s what the commission is still struggling with.”
Thomson said a draft marijuana ordinance can be found on the planning division website, at http://www.whitmancounty.org/page.aspx?pn=Planning+Division.
“People should read them,” he said. “We want your input.”
The commissioners took no action on the petition, as they’re waiting for the planning commission to submit its recommendations.
“We have a range of options, from a future ban to an (open-market) free-for-all, to something in the middle,” he said. “I’m looking at this as a land-use issue, not as an opinion poll on marijuana.”
Spence may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 791-9168.