Public gives tense testimony over Benton County cannabis growing ban
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. – The public discourse over banning marijuana grows in Benton County continues as county commissioners held a public hearing on their emergency moratorium on the new production and processing of cannabis enacted on Nov. 14.
On Tuesday, commissioners opened the mic to hear people's thoughts on the emergency interim zoning regulations in four zoning districts, including:
- GMA Agricultural District
- Rural Lands 20 District
- Light Industrial District
- Heavy Industrial District
Those for and against the issue filled the chambers and even bled into the hallway, waiting to speak, including a Washington state lawmaker.
"I'm totally in support of a ban and working for you in Olympia to ban this product in Benton County if you choose to,” Rep. Brad Klippert said.
"I support the ban, but the ban alone is not good enough to protect our families. We need county codes to ban or move indoors all current grows that have been allowed to flood our community," a Finley resident said.
Many Finley folks complained about the odor from these grows and the effects of allergies causing nausea, headaches, sinus and respiratory issues.
However, several medical and cancer patients shared their concerns regarding the adverse effects the ban has on their access to medicine.
Richard Smith said he’s been a medical patient for the past eight years, growing under guidelines, keeping cannabis out of view, and protecting the plants with a security system.
"We have a lot of people who can't afford to go to the cannabis store. They have to supplement their medicine with growing their own. We can't always get what we need at the cannabis stores,” Smith said. “Some of us need certain strains to deal with our own issues. I feel that if you guys take our growing rights away from us that you're really going to impact the patients in the community."
"If you stop them from producing, then I have no way of getting it," a cancer patient said..
But many Finley residents want cannabis out.
"I voted for medical marijuana because who am I to say when they're dealing with pain, but I don't want it grown or sold where I live," a longtime resident said.
Another Finley resident said there are many illegal grows that are neither medically endorsed nor licensed hiding in plain sight.
“So you're going to have to ban it entirely, thus infringing upon the rights of medical marijuana growers, or moving them all indoors,” he said to the commissioners. “And I think that is one of the paths that you're going to have to pursue."
However, another Finley resident said forcing all grows indoors could also hurt medical patients. She said her body is riddled with arthritis, but she’s able to fully function and work 40 hours a week with medical cannabis. Otherwise, she’d have to rely on pain pills.
"Growing indoors sounds like an easy fix—great, no smell—but the problem is a lot of the people who are medical patients are living on a fixed income with disabilities. They can't afford it," she explained.
Several cannabis producers and folks in the industry also voiced their worries about the ban.
"Prohibiting the grow of anything and prohibiting the use of any chemical, it doesn’t create peace, it creates crime," one producer said. “Those of us in the legal industry, we do not disagree that there's bad apples in the bunch. We want to see those bad apples gone as well. But before a decision is made, I’d ask that all of us in this industry be involved in the conversation for what we can do to make it easier."
Producers and processors noted money they've invested into following the state rules and regulations, including filtration systems to reduce pollen and smell.
“It’s important to us that we do not impact the communities around us and I do not believe anyone should be impacted by it,” another producer said. “But at the same time, I do not believe anyone here has any more right than I do to impact my ability to operate a business and do it in an ethical, legal manner."
Benton County Commissioner Shon Small is working with the planning department to review the testimonies to determine if the emergency interim zoning regulations should be continued.
After reviewing the testimony, the board can continue the moratorium, change any aspect of it, or repeal ordinances.
The next public meeting is Dec. 19, where the board will prepare ordinances that incorporate the fact findings developed by the board.