To manage odor complaints, Spokane Clean Air will charge fees for marijuana growers

The Spokane Clean Air Agency has received hundreds of complaints about the smell of this plant
The Spokane Clean Air Agency has received hundreds of complaints about the smell of this plant

In response to complaints of marijuana odor emitting from certain farms, the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency will start charging fees that could cost producers and processors in the county up to $1,250 this year.

But the agency's board promised to re-examine the fee schedule before next year, when higher fees of up to roughly $5,000 could be charged, depending on the size of the grow operation. Still, marijuana producers and processors say the decision seems like a burdensome regulation that could harm their business and the industry locally.

"It's another fee and another regulation for the farmers who are already struggling under the weight of overtaxation and overregulation," says Crystal Oliver, owner of a pot farm north of Spokane.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency proposed the rules in the fall, after the agency said it received more than 300 marijuana odor complaints from July 2014 until August 2017. A majority of those complaints, however, came from neighbors around only a couple of farms.

Julie Oliver, executive director of the clean air agency, says the volume of complaints put a strain on the five agency inspectors. It also cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars during that period.

As part of the new rules adopted Thursday by the agency's four-member board of directors, people growing and packaging cannabis must register with the agency and pay an initial registration fee ranging from $750 to $1,250. Those rules go into effect this year.

The board also approved an annual registration fee starting next year that, depending on what kind of farm it is, ranges from a fee of $528 to nearly $5,000. But that annual registration fee, the board decided, will be suspended until the agency can further study its impact on local businesses.

The new regulations also mandate that farmers give the clean air agency a harvest schedule.

The members of the board who unanimously passed the resolution included Spokane County Commissioner Al French, Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins, Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman and citizen Tom Brattebo.

Local marijuana growers spoke at the meeting in opposition to the new fees, saying it puts additional strain on their business.

Aaron Juhl, the owner of Funky Farms, called the fees "completely unfair for growers in Spokane County."

"In comparison to what we're actually making, it's just too much," he says.

In addition to the fees, the farmers object to having to offer harvest schedules to the clean air agency, feeling it could put the security of the farm in danger. But the clean air agency maintains that information is necessary for enforcement.

"I understand the concern of having to report the harvest schedule," French told farmers on Thursday. "It's important because if you're not in a harvest, then there's no reason for us to go out and inspect."

The clean air board insisted that the agency will keep examining how the fees should be charged. French noted that the industry is "still in flux," referencing the decision Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today to roll back the Obama-era policy guiding marijuana enforcement in states where it has been legalized.

"What we knew yesterday is different than what we know today," French says. "I don't know what's going to happen as a result of federal intervention based upon what [Sessions] has said."

Crystal Oliver, the marijuana farmer, is not optimistic that the more time the clean air agency devotes to determining fees will result in lower costs to local farms.

"I don't know many regulatory agencies who lower fees," she says.

The Sessions announcement combined with the new clean air rules only provides more uncertainty for a budding local industry, Oliver says.

"It's a day in the life of marijuana farmers," she says.