Okanogan County - BOCC - Public Meeting
(August 24, 2021) - Cannabis Producer Moratorium

Liberty Bell Mountain at Night - Okanogan County

Commissioners adopted a six-month moratorium on permitting of new cannabis producers or expansion of grows, and required existing businesses to corroborate site plan documentation.

Here are some observations from the Tuesday August 24th Okanogan County Board of County Commissioners (Okanogan County - BOCC) Public Meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Okanogan Planning and Development Director Stephanie Palmer briefed commissioners on Ordinance 2021-9, a moratorium on new cannabis producer businesses which also mandated current licensees in the county meet with her office and present “current licensing and site plans for their operations.”
    • Palmer, referred to as “Pete” by commissioners, stated that the ordinance had been drafted and shared with relevant staff, remarking that Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas told her “it’s gonna do what we’re asking it to do” (audio - 2m):
      • Palmer said the measure set “a temporary moratorium on the permitting of new cannabis grows and the expansion of existing cannabis grows” in the county. Saying the “bottom line” of the changes were that new production facilities or expansion of existing facilities would now be prohibited in Chapter 17A.290.
      • Palmer reported that the ordinance would require:
        • Current licensed producers “set an appointment with [the] Okanogan County Office of Planning and Development [to] provide their existing site plan of their operation by January 1st of 2022.”
        • Existing cannabis grows that do not meet the requirements of providing current licenses and site plans of their operations will have any permits or approvals received from Okanogan County revoked and a notice will be sent” to WSLCB officials “regarding noncompliance and revoked permit.”
        • Palmer’s office would “revisit” the county cannabis code “to make amendments to address the issues they’re dealing with pertaining to cannabis permitting, siting, regulation, and enforcement including establishing an annual registration requirement and fees.”
        • The business moratorium would expire six months after passage “unless otherwise extended or repealed.”
      • Palmer noted that Gecas asked commissioners to keep in mind “that we would have to have a public hearing on this within 60 days.”
    • District 2 Commissioner Andy Hover asked that Palmer coordinate with staff to schedule and announce the public hearing (audio - 1m).
      • In an interview for Methow Valley News in 2017, Hover noted that he’d heard complaints about legal cannabis as a commissioner, saying “I have one [licensed producer] down the road from me” in Winthrop that had worked to mitigate smell and light pollution as well as building a “creative” fence around the business. “There are a lot of people out there doing this that are doing a good job. And there are people not doing a good job,” he said, adding that he felt the county was “one of the last bastions of easy pot growing...people are flooding in, and that gives rise to these questions.”
    • Commission Chair Chris Branch wanted to confirm that enforcement authority against licensees not meeting licensing or site plan requirements was “already in the code.” Palmer assured him that the County maintained authority for “enforcement of non-compliance” (audio - 1m).
    • Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance without discussion (audio - <1m).
  • After adopting the ordinance, commission members shared additional insight prior to a required public hearing set for October 11th. 
    • Branch asserted that “our course and our reasoning for doing this” came after “a lot of discussion,” in particular about the “leasing of sub-units” and “enforcement itself.” He said county leaders hadn’t appreciated how “these grows would turn into something where you had sub-units” which added difficulty “to track what’s going on and who's responsible for what’s happening.” Additionally, Branch remarked that commissioners needed to “keep track of what we’re actually doing here...to make sure that we don’t get sideways, legally” (audio - 2m
    • Hover commented that he preferred a policy where “only the owner of the parcel can hold the license” for cannabis production and local zoning would be “the determining factor on how many farms that you’re gonna have.” Branch thought having “one entity to deal with” would work better for county staff. District 3 Commissioner Jim DeTro commented that it “would eliminate some of the problems that we ran into” where people applied for cannabis licenses on subleased land without notifying a property owner, “and then the state left it up to us to figure that out.” Palmer observed that the problem her office was seeing most often was operations “expanding so large that they’re not compatible with the surrounding uses where they’re at” (audio - 2m).
    • Hover reasoned that the sub-leasing businesses “should be paying personal property tax” which would be an easier way for the county assessor to determine the business activity occurring on the land. Palmer remarked that during the “last enforcement action that we just did, it kind of spoke to how much control that the property owners actually have over the people that they’re leasing to.” Some tenants had only minimal communication with property owners, in certain cases saying “we’ll pay the fine, but we’re not changing anything,” according to Palmer. Hover said the newly adopted ordinance language meant “if we say ‘hey, none of those buildings were permitted and...you’re gonna take them down,’ we can do that.” Branch stated there was still a commitment to “be as even-handed as possible” as county leaders, which prompted Hover to recall a situation where a cabin built without a permit was ordered to be demolished. Branch asked Palmer to return to talk about “what we’re up against” (audio - 2m).
    • At publication time, the Commission agenda page noted a public hearing on the moratorium was scheduled for October 11th.

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