County pot moratorium updated

Amendment adds clarification sentence to protect current businesses while moratorium is in effect.

The Grays Harbor County commissioners have amended the county moratorium on marijuana production they passed in June, amending it to clarify that it doesn’t have an impact on current businesses.


The moratorium came after several complaints about odor, and some complaints about light pollution.

In essence, the moratorium inhibits any new marijuana production and processing businesses from receiving county permits.

Marijuana smells. It’s not just marijuana smoke — the flower of the plant puts off a strong odor as it grows. In the last few weeks before the flower is ready to be harvested, the odor is even stronger.

Pump gas in Central Park or drive down Monte Elma Road near Oaksridge Golf Course when a crop is near ready to harvest and the odor is pungent. With windows up and driving at 45 or 50 mph, the odor is often obvious inside the car.

That odor has caused issues with marijuana producers in Grays Harbor County. The Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) is tasked with policing air issues throughout the region, including odor issues.

One particular producer has been launched into an ongoing dispute with a neighbor. Green Freedom in Elma has had some 60 complaints filed through ORCAA about odor. Of those more than 60 complaints, the bulk were from the neighbor immediately to the west of the business. That neighbor declined to comment.

Grays Harbor County also receives complaints. The county is tasked with zoning and permitting for the facilities.

Complaints have been received for the budding industry throughout Grays Harbor County, but most of the complaints have been against growers in East County. In addition to Green Freedom in Elma, Sound Cannabis in Central Park has had multiple complaints at the county level.

There are three types of marijuana facilities subject to regulation: retail, where prepared marijuana is sold to consumers; processing, where marijuana is readied to be sold to consumers; and production, the farming side. Growers can hold both production and processing licenses. The moratorium does not affect retail operations.


With the moratorium in place for the past two months, the commissioners decided to reconsider the vocabulary of the moratorium. The wording, as it stands, has effectively stymied at least one current producer.

The moratorium states that the county will not accept or issue “permit applications or licenses by or for new marijuana production, processing, and/or extraction…”

Unfortunately, in restricting permits, current producers who were in the planning stages of expanding their operations — anticipating the construction of a new greenhouse, or adding a new lab — cannot obtain the necessary permits from the county because of the moratorium.

Grays Harbor County commissioners Vickie Raines and Randy Ross both expressed their frustration at the unintended consequence caused by the permitting moratorium during a workshop on Aug. 10.

Raines noted a conversation she had had with the owners of Sound Cannabis, who are looking to expand but had a building permit denied because of the moratorium.

“They are harvesting and using the funds to expand into their next phase … they have the intention of employing 30 people and they can’t until they get to the next stage,” Raines said. “I didn’t realize that this would stop them.”

During the Aug. 14 commissioners meeting, Robert Mead of Sound Cannabis said the moratorium was negatively affecting his business.

“It put a big hamper in our ability to expand our business” Mead said. “If it stays in place and we wait another three months before we can make any progress, we’re going to start feeling the pain.”

He recommended that the county organize a committee to advise the commissioners on marijuana changes, and he asked that growers be included in those committees.

As for complaints, the commissioners were divided on which operations had the most complaints, and there was some confusion as to how many complaints were received in total. While the county keeps a record of written complaints, the county does not track complaints made in person or over the phone.

“It’s hard to quantify it because the data we have is only (from) the people who put it in writing,” said Jenna Amsbury, the clerk to the board of county commissioners.

ORCAA has issued odor violations. Three violations have been issued to Green Freedom.

Justin Wildhaber, owner of Green Freedom, says his company has paid a $750 fine for the first violation and currently is appealing two other violations (which could hold fines of $1,000 each).

In order to assess the odor, ORCAA sends a staff member out to the property where the sense of smell is used to determine the level of odor. Wildhaber and others have argued that method is subjective.

Additionally, though Wildhaber is being fined for odor violations, he says he’s not being given options to address those odor concerns.

“They’re supposed to come up with reasonable controls, and without those reasonable controls, the violations and fines become strictly punitive,” Wildhaber said.

Wildhaber has invested in three mobile industrial “scrubbers,” equipment that is engineered to mitigate odor.

Green Freedom has 55 full-time employees, making his business one of the largest employers in Elma, and ranking it within the top 20 in Grays Harbor County, depending on the criteria used.

During the Aug. 14 commission meeting, Wildhaber argued that stigma against the industry had unfairly made growers a target for fines.

“Take the word marijuana out of this equation – are we still at the same place?” Wildhaber asked.

Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously approved the amendment.

The moratorium remains in place, while the commissioners discuss possible changes to zoning, including buffers between growing operations and residential neighbors, but the amendment should clarify that current businesses will not be affected.

“It was never my intent to stop what was currently going on,” Ross said. “I do have some concerns moving forward about some issues that have come up with residents in the county that are close by.”

Raines agreed, saying, “My intent was not to hinder or cause an issue with anyone currently.”

Commissioner Wes Cormier said the county was doing its best to navigate the new industry and its challenges.

“I’m just trying to do due diligence on my side and make sure that from a property rights issue that this gets worked through the process,” Cormier said. “Moving forward we’re going to learn some things … We’re doing the best we can on this end and we’ll certainly try to communicate with the industry.”

The commissioners agreed that a “task force” or committee would be a good idea moving forward to help navigate legislation changes.