County forgoes permit process for marijuana

Commissioners say they don’t want over-regulation

— Okanogan County commissioners were met with applause Monday night when they decided marijuana-related businesses should be able to operate without conditional use permits from the county.

“I’m very satisfied. I think they listened to the public comments and took everything into consideration and really are looking out for the financial best interests of our county,” Martha Lynch of Oroville said.

All six people who commented asked the board not to require conditional use permits.

Michael Mazzetti of Tonasket called the state Liquor Control Board’s new guidelines for marijuana producing, processing and sales “a bit of overkill.”

“No other crop or business has ever had this degree of restriction and conditions attached to it, and I encourage you not to add any more,” he said.

Douglas County has chosen to treat marijuana as any other crop in accordance with state and local laws, and Winthrop resident David Sorenson urged Okanogan County to follow suit.

“I feel that adding another roadblock in front of the people that have the ability to attempt to pull off these ventures is just going to discourage economic growth, something that this county badly needs,” he said.

“It’s just the beginning of more regulation that I don’t think the county can afford, and I don’t think the farmers can afford it,” Tonasket resident Sandra Sunda said. “Not just for people who are going to be growing marijuana, but the apple growers and the cherry growers and the cattle ranchers.”

Commissioner Jim DeTro agreed with her.

“One thing that really has always stuck in my craw is over-regulation,” he said. “I don’t appreciate some of the tactics that our Legislature bestows on us, because lots of times we get unfunded mandates shoved down our throats, and in cases like this when we’re trying to thread our way through the process to make it fair and equitable for everyone, and to carry out the wish of the majority vote of the people, we have to be careful we don’t stymie people in the process, too.”

Commissioners Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy also said they didn’t want to contribute to over-regulation.

How to handle marijuana on a local level was a hot topic at the last Washington State Association of Counties conference, DeTro said.

“They stress to us as county commissioners, ‘If you have a personal opinion, if you try to block growing marijuana, that’s putting a target on your back like you’ve never seen before, so you need to pay attention to the referendum that voters sent and try and deal with it in a sensible manner,’” DeTro said.

In deciding not to amend the county’s zoning ordinance, Planning Director Perry Huston said he would uphold the current code and deem marijuana crops to be “identical to agriculture.”

What is allowable in each of the county’s major zoning areas differs in some respects, Huston said. For instance, retail sale of agricultural products, including fruit stands, is prohibited in unincorporated areas of the Methow Review District.

The Methow district comprises around one-third of the west county, stretching south to Carlton and just east of Twisp. A majority of the rest of the county is the Minimum Requirement District, excepting the Molson Overlay zone east of Oroville.

In Okanogan and Ferry counties, 45 total marijuana business license applications had been filed with the state as of last week. That total includes two Brewster applicants on the Douglas County side of town. The state updates its list every Tuesday, after The Chronicle’s deadline. All applications are due Dec. 20.

So far, there are 26 applicants for producer licenses, 18 for processor licenses and one retail applicant. Okanogan County has the fourth-largest pool of applicants in the state for Tier 3 licenses, which would permit the largest crops between 10,000 and 30,000 acres.

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