County should allow cannabis production | Colleen Armstrong

Publisher Colleen Armstrong

Here at the Journal, we are disappointed with the direction that San Juan County is taking in regards to cannabis farming. San Juan Sun Grown, a producer located on San Juan Island, has become the poster child for regulatory hurdles after it shut down operations in mid-December. Company owner David Rice said the cost of looming legal battles and weight of regulatory uncertainty proved too much for the fledgling enterprise to overcome.

In early December, the county hearings examiner overturned San Juan Sun Grown’s land-use permit and revoked its building permit, ruling that county planners erred by not adequately evaluating impacts of the facility on surrounding properties.

In the decision, prompted by an appeal filed by neighbors of the grow operation, the examiner cited noise, odor, traffic and pesticide use as the kind of impacts that required better evaluation.  The neighbors say the lawsuit over the use of Fieldstone Stone Road, a privately owned and shared gravel driveway, will proceed even if the operation is said to have shut down. The dispute centers on an easement that reportedly prohibits commercial use of the shared road.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 12, the San Juan County Council held a workshop to consider whether to impose a six-month “emergency” moratorium on the processing of land-use and building permits for marijuana-related facilities. Council members have raised concerns about local rules not being able to safeguard against impacts of pot production’s new frontier. Thankfully, in a 3-0 decision, the council voted to disengage from its pursuit of the moratorium – but primarily because it would have also targeted greenhouses, not just marijuana production.

Though it is off the table, the potential of a new regulatory regime for marijuana grow operations is not. The council is expected to receive updated information from planning staff and the agricultural resources committee at a Jan. 26 workshop. We applaud Councilman Rick Hughes of Orcas for standing in opposition of any new pot-related legislation, but we’re wondering what the other two council members are thinking.

It’s been two years since voters approved state Initiative 502, which legalized the cultivation, production, sale and recreational use of marijuana by adults. Yet the council chooses now, after islanders have put in months of hard work to get enterprises off the ground, to consider new rules? And it’s not like there are going to be dozens of pot farms popping up all over the county. We feel the impact will be minimal.

Most can agree that sustaining local farms is good for the land, the community and local commerce. We are a county that is deeply rooted in agriculture. We give farmers incentives like “open space” tax breaks, but we won’t support a potentially lucrative new crop because of noise, odor and traffic concerns? The smell of pot is less odoriferous than chicken or steer manure.

The ins and out of the marijuana industry are well known. The steps that the council would need to take to enact new regulations are not overly burdensome, but we don’t think that is actually the point.  It’s time to accept that the production and sale of marijuana is legal in Washington state.

This is just one more way that San Juan County can develop its agricultural foothold – if our government can get out of the way and let this new chapter unfold.