Farmers eye Ebey’s Reserve to grow marijuana

Island County Planning Director David Wechner listens to public comment during a hearing about possible marijuana production in the county.  - Janis Reid / The Record
Island County Planning Director David Wechner listens to public comment during a hearing about possible marijuana production in the county.
— image credit: Janis Reid / The Record

Some Central Whidbey farmers want to grow marijuana in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

“I grew up here and all I wanted to do was leave Whidbey Island,” said reserve farmer Josh Frank Harvey during Tuesday’s Island County Planning Commission meeting.

“Now this I-502 is giving me an opportunity to come back to Whidbey Island.”

The draft land use regulations — on which the board took public comment Tuesday — singles out the reserve, limiting farmers to the smallest tier of production operations, 2,000 square feet or less. Processing and retail were not allowed on the reserve under the draft land use regulations.

The county issued a six-month moratorium on new recreational and medical marijuana businesses in November after the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana production and distribution.

The state accepted a first round of applications for marijuana business licenses Nov. 18 to Dec. 20.

Thirty applications were submitted by potential growers, another 20 for processing and nine for retail stores in Island County.

Harvey asked the commission to reconsider the draft ordinance’s ban on processing in the reserve. He proposed an organic operation on his rural agriculture-zoned property where the extent of processing would be trimming, weighing, bagging and labeling.

“I’m concerned about the reserve putting restrictions on what I can do with my property,” Harvey said.

“It seems a little unfair.”

Several other reserve farmers and land owners also weighed in, both during the public hearing and in writing.

“My whole issue with the ordinance is the section on Ebey’s Reserve,” said Wilbur Bishop, an Ebey’s Reserve resident, to the planning commissioners. “I think you should remove it.”

Bishop said he didn’t think Ebey’s Reserve farmers should be held to a different standard because it sets a bad precedent. He said restrictions should be the same county-wide.

“It’s going to be a bad situation down the road,” Bishop said. “I don’t want to be treated any different.”

Judy Harvey, another reserve property owner, submitted several letters into the public record Tuesday, written and signed by herself and her neighbors in favor of lifting the restrictions.

“I do not support the county putting additional restrictions on the farmers of Ebey’s Reserve,” Harvey said.

Kristen Griffin, who assumed her role as reserve manager last month, said that “opportunities to engage in the workshops didn’t occur” and that the reserve trust board is eager to weigh in on the restriction but their regular meeting isn’t until after the planning commission’s next meeting on March 25.

“I think it’s important that the reason this [restriction] ended up in the ordinance is a concern for a special place,” Griffin said. “I appreciate that.”

While the planning commission took no action on the land use standards Tuesday, South Whidbey resident Dean Enell and other planning commissioners said they were open to “scrapping” the restriction on Ebey’s Reserve based on farmer comments.

“To me, the purpose of the reserve is keeping agriculture flourishing,” Enell said.

Chairwoman Val Hillers said that of the 19 farms in the reserve, the planning commission had received signed letters from “a number” of the farmers who were opposed to the idea of marijuana fields.

“I think the farmers have weighed in here who said, ‘we don’t want this,’ ” Hillers said.

Planning Director David Wechner was given direction to change the land use regulations accordingly.

The planning commission voted to extend the public hearing until the board’s next meeting at 9 a.m. March 25.

The planning commission is hoping to get the land use regulations approved in time for an ordinance to be passed by the Island County Board of Commissioners by the end of the six-month moratorium, May 13.


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