By Ian Haupt
Following a six-month ban placed two weeks before on accepting permit applications for outdoor cannabis growing operations, Whatcom County Council expanded the moratorium to include greenhouses in its April 20 meeting.
Council voted 5-2, with councilmembers Ben Elenbaas and Kathy Kershner opposed, to place a six-month ban on accepting new applications or changes to marijuana-growing operations that are outdoor or in greenhouses.
The now all-encompassing interim moratorium was proposed after confusion on what qualifies as an outdoor growing facility was brought up in council. Many cannabis growers use hoop houses, also used for growing grapes on vineyards, that can offer a hybrid indoor and outdoor growing environment. With the debate still ongoing as to whether hoop houses are considered outdoor or indoor growing, council added language to the ordinance to prevent further confusion.
Under the new substitute ordinance, the moratorium applies to the licensing of any cannabis production in: Open or cleared ground, a non-rigid greenhouse, a greenhouse with rigid walls, a roof and doors, or similar greenhouse structures.
The action by council comes after rural residents have complained about the light pollution, smell, noise and water usage of these operations.
The moratorium does not affect any preexisting grow operations but prevents anyone who wants to grow cannabis from obtaining a permit and any growers from expanding their current operations.
The county’s planning department will use the six months to look at possible zoning code adjustments so grow farms are less of a disturbance to their neighbors.
Mark Personius, Whatcom County planning and development services department director, said during the meeting that other counties in Washington have banned all outdoor cannabis growing but allow for fixed, enclosed greenhouse operations with filtration systems. He said this is a possibility the department will review.
The planning department will also look at existing venting and filtration technology that could be included in county code as a requirement for cannabis farms, he said. The department would present county council with possibilities for suggestions and approval.
“There’s a lot of different options,” Personius said. Rainbow Medicine-Walker, who spoke at both public hearings, said they represented people in the Kendall area who supported the moratorium. Medicine-Walker again expressed concern of large industrial-scale growing operations moving into the county without the moratorium in place.
“Seems to me we should be able to figure out how to create codes that protect the quality of life in our established communities,” Medicine-Walker said, “and are also protective of existing small-scale, self-regulating cannabis operations who control their odor and light pollution.”
Mark Ambler, who runs a cannabis farm in Bellingham and also spoke at both public hearings, pointed out issues with current county code not previously addressed, such as a code for the growing of mature male cannabis plants. He advised county council to consider working on the code revisions without the
“We should continue this process, in an open public manner like this with all the stakeholders, but without the moratorium,” he said. “Because it’s bringing everyone together under a conflict.”