Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Many speak out on Selway marijuana re-zone request


February 21, 2019

A crowd listens to impromptu public comment in the commissioners' chambers Tuesday. About 20 people spoke on the matter, including Sheriff Brett Myers.

Whitman County Commissioners took comment from a crowd Tuesday after setting a date of March 4 for a public meeting on a proposed zone change to allow a marijuana research facility at the intersection of Flat Road and Country Club Road outside Pullman.

Tuesday's regular meeting actually had no comment slated for the agenda, but commission president Art Swannack nonetheless opened it for comments, asking anyone who would like to speak to keep it under two minutes.

He called on the front row first.

Joel Valasco, stood up, identified himself as WSU graduate student and voiced support. Then Allison Banner, a WSU grad and owner of Selway Holdings, LLC, land, spoke. Selway is the applicant for the zone change.

"I completely agree," she said.

Selway Holdings has requested 3.5 acres of their land southwest of Pullman be re-zoned from agriculture to limited light industrial, which would allow plans for a facility to process marijuana.

"To learn about its unique genetics to breed for healthier and stronger plants," Jordan Zager told the planning commissioners Jan. 16. Zager, PhD., is part owner of Selway and co-founder of Dewey Scientific.

"Please remain objective as this moves forward," Zager asked the county commissioners.

Paul Mihalyov a co-founder of Dewey Scientific, a company based in Pullman, which would conduct research at the Selway site said, "it was the last of our intentions (for this to cause problems). We're open to meet with anybody. We absolutely don't want this to turn it into what it has."

Scott Adams stood next, in the second row.

"In the circumstances that we have to raise our children, it's a new area, a new territory to explore," said Adams, as part of his comments.

Kelly Fukia from Schweitzer Engineering urged commissioners "to take the time to consider, weigh the concerns with the proposal."

"I have very grave concerns about the effects of drugs," another woman said. "My 13-year-old daughter asked me to close the vents in the car when driving (by certain areas) because it makes it smell like marijuana. I didn't know what marijuana smelled like until I was 44. People say, you live on the nicest street on Military Hill. Maybe not so anymore."

David Gang, PhD., director of WSU's Tissue Imaging and Protemics Laboratory, spoke.

"We have some concerns at the university, particularly on the dairy," he said. "You can't treat marijuana as an agricultural product under state law. You need to take that into consideration."

He then said the proposed operation may affect cattle nearby. "It could be a negative impact on Ferdinand's Ice Cream and also Cougar Gold Cheese."

WSU's Knott Dairy Farm is located across Country Club Road from the proposed Selway site.

Aaron Fosback identified himself as a resident of Country Club Road. He cited the county's comprehensive plan.

"When my wife and I built our house five years ago, before that, we did take a look at the comprehensive plan. There was no plan to allow light industrial in that area."

Dr. Stephanie Fosback, a Pullman physician, followed.

"I am not anti-marijuana," she said. "I have some significant concerns. We don't know... we have no idea its impacts on kids... Marijuana is not safe. We have a huge mismatch of public perception. I don't want our children to think, gosh, we grow it in Whitman County. What kind of county do we want to be?"

Sandy Rhodes, another woman standing in back, told the crowd she moved from Pennsylvania to Pullman with her physician husband two years ago.

"For its reputation as a family-friendly atmosphere," she said. "If we had heard Pullman was becoming a mecca for growing marijuana, we would not have bothered with a phone interview. We have 30 pot farms, I don't think we need any more."

Nancy Gregory, a 40-year county resident and nurse practitioner said she had some statistics, one of which was, "One of eight marijuana users become an addict. Do we want more anti-social behaviors, I don't think so..." she said. "I know I see a head shaking in the front row. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Ask any of us in the medical profession. Casual exposure, what does that cause? We don't know, there are no studies on it."

She continued, as commissioners listened.

"If you don't want it in your backyard, please don't put it in ours," Gregory said. "Honestly, I consider it a personal affront that you would consider this."

Dr. Fosback made another comment.

"Your lack of regulation is silent consent," she said to the commissioners.

Benno Mohr, a physician and resident of Country Club Road spoke next, standing in the back, near a crowd of children and other adults.

"The Selway process finds itself in the middle of a larger debate, about lack of regulation around marijuana ... there is also a role in our image. The image of our community," he said. "This is not about legalization, it's about quality of life and what we want it to be... Do we want to be a repository for folks who want to get away from regulation?"

Kathleen Lloyd spoke at length next.

She asked that commissioners to "put a moratorium on any new facilities coming while we have this discussion."

She noted the issue of the transfer of a license by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board from Chelan County to Whitman County for Selway's proposed operation. Commissioners will need to approve it or legally object to it.

Further comments followed, with a reference to legalization in 2012.

"May I state I voted against it," Commissioner Michael Largent said.

"All three of us did," said Swannack.

A retired business professor from WSU posed a question.

"I don't understand the motivations for the county to want this to go through," he said.

Swannack then spoke about federal law, state law and licenses.

"We don't want to be putting the county in the middle of an illegal federal action," he said. "But I think it's changed a lot in the past year."

Sheriff Brett Myers, standing amidst the crowd, was asked by Swannack to give his comment.

"At the very least, a moratorium should be taken seriously," Myers said. "I don't want to see Whitman County be a mecca for marijuana. I've never driven by, or been at a marijuana grow site of any kind and not smelled it. If there's something you can do locally, I would agree with every single person here."

Largent then spoke again.

"I'm gonna need some education, I'm not an expert on this," he said.

The retired business professor asked if Largent would oppose this.

"There are two issues to this," he answered, noting the application before them, sent to commissioners by the planning commission and the broader law.

"We are obligated to follow state law, not the way I wish it to be," he said.

Swannack added comments.

"We're in what I consider a quasi-judicial situation," he said, in part. "I don't think it's appropriate for us to say no right now, at this point."

Calls came from the crowd for an answer to the licensing issue, which members of the public said allows 20 more days for commissioners to decide whether to approve it.

"They can start growing in March," said Kathleen Lloyd.

Swannack asked Alan Thomson, county planner, standing in the near doorway, if a moratorium would affect a zone change.

"Their application is vested," he said. "You can't just cut them off, it's against the law."

Swannack then turned to Largent and Kinzer and asked if there was interest in a motion for a moratorium.

Largent answered that he would like to talk to Prosecuting Attorney Denis Tracy. Commissioner Dean Kinzer concurred.

The meeting soon concluded.

"No one's gonna rush anything, Benno," Largent said to Mohr.

Later Tuesday, the commissioners filed for an extension with the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to decide the license matter.

The public meeting on the Selway zone-change request will be March 4 at 11:30 a.m. in the commissioners' room at the courthouse.

Does Whitman County really have 30 marijuana grow operations?

"This list is misleading," said Thomson. "There may be near that many licenses, with some names duplicated, but there is no indication whether all are operational. I think the actual count is a lot less than 30. I don't think the LCB knows what the number is."

What did the commissioners think of what they saw and heard Tuesday?

"I think the residents of Country Club Road are not happy with this proposal," Largent said.

He pointed to a matter overall.

"We don't really have an ordinance specifically to marijuana in Whitman County, many counties do, the question is whether we should," Largent said. "You get this kind of opposition, maybe it's time to look at it."


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