Commissioners keep moratorium in place, voters speak out

OKANOGAN – Okanogan County Commissioners Sheila Kennedy and Jim Detro voted Tuesday, May 3, to leave a temporary marijuana moratorium in place prohibiting new marijuana businesses.

“I am eagerly waiting for the zoning document review process to be completed by the Planning Commission and public comments, with their recommendation submitted to the Commissioners so we can begin our full review of all the comments and suggested changes,” said Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy. “Since I had little to no knowledge of this issue until this was passed by the people and legislation was passed, I toured one of the local grow operation facilities, to better understand especially since the commissioners have the responsibility of making the final decision, representing the people.”

According to Paul Neir, a cannabis farmer outside Oroville and member of the Okanogan Growers Association, the public was represented at the meeting by eight people speaking in favor of the cannabis industry and four people speaking out against it.

Neir, who attended the meeting, said public comment on the moratorium included Michael Drechsler of Oroville, a grower for Landrace Farms. Drechsler said Landrace has invested nearly $1 million into the business and has a payroll of about $500,000.

Kim Harriman, a Tonasket grower, said his operation, K&M, has nine year-round employees; with $351,000 paid out in wages last year and $157,000 spent in the local economy.

Lobbyist Ezra Eickmeyer allowed that the moratorium was a proper way to achieve the immediate goal of slowing sitings in the county, but stopping businesses completely was not a good thing.

North Pine Creek resident John Herzog stated his opposition to marijuana farms in Okanogan County because of factors including the sights and increased traffic.

Suzanne Chaney, a grower with Moonlit Farm expressed her opinion supporting the industry.

Shawn Wagenseller, a grower in the Pine Creek area said her mother has invested her entire life savings into the farm now being threatened by possible zoning changes.

Peter (Dirk) Nansen, a lawyer and Riverside grower with the Okanogan Growers Association spoke in favor of the industry.

Karen Zittle, a resident of Omak River Road, spoke against the industry.

Andie Irvin, the Director of Okanogan County Community Coalition, spoke against the industry.

Jamie Curtis-Smith, with CannaSol Farms out of Riverside and the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, spoke in favor of the industry, urging commissioners to accept the second alternative to the moratorium presented to commissioners at the April 11 meeting of the planning commissioners. Curtis-Smith said cannabis is categorized as agriculture in the RCW, and categorized as non-agriculture for tax purposes only.

Greg Harrison, a Tier 2 size grower, spoke in favor of the industry.

Brad Warfield, a resident of North Pine Creek, spoke against the industry.

Commissioners Jim Detro and Ray Campbell, who was not present at the May 3 meeting, did not respond to the Gazette-Tribune’s request for comments regarding the vote to keep the moratorium in place.