Marijuana farmers fight resolution aimed at putting them out of business

Marijuana farmers fight resolution aimed at putting them out of business

Marijuana growers picket on Chelan Avenue in March. Gary Bégin/WBJ

Marijuana farmers and their supporters hit the streets of Wenatchee in March carrying signs informing motorists about the economic benefits of their legalized activities. Cars streaming by on Chelan Avenue in the late afternoon mostly honked their horns in favor of the picketers.
Farmers and their minions say Chelan County commissioners and a handful of residential complainers are out to put them out of business.
Comment about the validity of the protest was solicited from recently elected Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay, former member of the Chelan County I-502 Cannabis Workgroup, by the Wenatchee Business Journal, but he did not reply. Overbay lives in Malaga and has a marijuana farming operation as a neighbor.
He did speak to the Lake Chelan Rotary previously about the subject. “There were $169 million in taxes taken off the top, and Chelan County received $50,000, why? That is the question, where is it going? Well part of it is going to the Department of Health (DOH) for prevention programs. The Liquor Control Board gets some and then the rest goes into the general fund,” Overbay said. “There are some loopholes in the law also. Right now it used to be where your growers and processors would pay 37 percent in taxes, they don’t have to pay that anymore. The retail end has to pay the 37 percent. The total has to eclipse $25 million before cities or counties get any payout. Then they get a portion of that based on the population,” Overbay said in late January to the group.
“Liquor control issues these licenses for folks to grow marijuana, there isn’t a whole lot of information given to the county so basically it is a gold rush. We have folks on a two year cycle and then when the moratorium is put in March 2018, they will have two years to cycle down unless we can come up with some regulations,” Overbay concluded. “We get no support from the state, they keep issuing licenses regardless of the moratorium or a ban because of the money they get for the licenses. It is too much of a cash cow for the state, he concluded.” (See related story for Overbay's entire presentation to the Rotary).
The marijuana growers aren't too happy either.
"The Central Washington Grower’s Association is protesting Chelan County government resolution 2016-14 and their recent actions to shut down existing, legal cannabis farms in the county.
"Legal farms will be protesting to raise awareness concerning the county’s effort to use limited tax dollars to eliminate jobs, local business and to reduce tax income provided by the legal cannabis industry. The county is
irresponsibly using tax dollars to pay for lawyers in order to argue against i502 businesses, which was approved by the majority of voters in Chelan County government.
"If the county succeeds, they will be responsible for eliminating 1,000 livable-wage jobs from the economy, which would make Chelan County’s
unemployment rate more than 2 points higher than the national average. This would have a direct impact on area businesses who support the industry, which includes the building industry, all supply providers and family supports such as child care. Any success by the county in this matter would damage all county economic growth," said an industry spokesman in a news release issued shortly after the first street protest.
A lawsuit brought by the growers last year ended up being put on the back burner and the litigants turned the issues into a workshop featuring county planners, complaining residents and farmers, but the results placed the farmers on the short end of the legal stick.
Many of them have invested huge sums of money into their grow operations since the formerly controlled substance was legalized by the citizens of the state. Chances are good the lawsuit will be brought back to life because of the latest Chelan County actions.
One of the grower's main points is that the county and its taxpayers will end up footing the bill for the legal battle. The growers mostly at stake are the ones with outdoor operations because the odor is difficult to mitigate and that has been the main source of citizen complaints. The indoor-only growers have a better chance at survival because of the controlled environment in a "greenhouse," although the term implies lots of glass. The truth is that much of the crop can and is being grown in large buildings equipped with huge amounts of venting and lighting systems.
The systems allow for perfect control of the light, water and humidity needed to grow the crop. One such indoor grower refused to go on record citing the pending litigation, but he joined the other farmers in a show of solidarity.
Keep reading the Wenatchee Business Journal for follow up stories on this subject.
More marijuana growers information can be found at cwgrowers.org.

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