Neighbors of cannabis producers in Washington may soon have a place to take their complaints about skunky odors. On January 15, State Senator Judy Warnick, a Republican, introduced a bill to create a task force to address the issue and seek remedies.
The bill comes after Warnick’s constituents came to her with complaints about strong cannabis smells, she says. Washington, which was one of the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012, allows the plant to be grown both indoors and outdoors, and both can release significant amounts of terpenes, the chemical compounds that cause the plant’s signature smell. The state has more than 1,200 licensed cannabis processors and producers, according to the Washington State Cannabis and Liquor Board.
Warnick’s outline for the task force calls for representatives from several state and business entities to discuss effective ways to mitigate the odors and manage the “potentially harmful impact” these smells may have on Washingtonians living or working near a cannabis producing or processing facility. Among the stakeholders she would bring to the table: the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board; the Department of Ecology; the Department of Health; the Department of Agriculture; a state association of counties and one of cities; and a representative for the cannabis community or a licensed cannabis producer, processor, or retailer. The odor task force would also examine potential changes to state laws and regulations.
Washington isn’t the only state dealing with this issue, which some consider a public nuisance. Lawsuits like the one filed by the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Cultivation, the Crimson Galeria in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Safe Streets Alliance in Colorado against their odor producing neighbors could set legal precedents for disgruntled neighbors of cannabis. In Warnick’s bill to create the task force, findings will be reported to the governor, Jay Inslee, as well as to the state House of Representatives and the state Senate by December 31, 2020.
Cannabis Wire spoke with Senator Warnick to learn more about her plans. (This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Cannabis Wire: How and when did the cannabis odor issue first come to your attention?
Senator Warnick: It came to my attention because of a constituent. I don’t use cannabis myself, but I’m not opposed to the use of it. So I’m not trying to do away with the growing of cannabis. In fact, we have several people in my district who have grow operations. But I had a constituent who lives in a rural, agricultural area. Most of the people that live there have very small farming operations, maybe a large garden or pasture for cattle, maybe some hay or alfalfa. There was a grow operation that moved into that area, and it’s indoors. When there is harvest and at certain times during the season, a very strong odor comes from the operation. It was approved by the county so there’s no issues with citing it or anything like that. But that strong odor is affecting people in different ways. My constituent who brought me this issue, she becomes almost incapacitated with vertigo, and it’s from that odor.
I’m not a scientist or a biologist, but I’ve been working on this for a couple years now for her, trying to figure out how an operation could filter it somehow. Because there are odors in agricultural areas that people manage. I’ve also heard from another constituent who has a business in a light industrial area. Across a four lane highway is a large grow operation and he can smell the odor across the highway at certain times of the year and he’s not even next door to it. That affects some of his employees too. So I thought, I’ve been part of a task force on any number of different issues through the years, and my idea is to get people together to find out what’s out there, what’s available as far as fans and filter systems, and have a discussion about it.
Cannabis Wire: Besides your constituents bringing this to you, is there a channel for people to file complaints? What is the most common way that you’ve seen these complaints from people?
Senator Warnick: Mine is just meeting them in district, but as far as an official complaint line, that’s something I would encourage us to learn about in this task force. What could be done? Should it be done through the Department of Health? Department of Ecology? What would be the best avenue?
Cannabis Wire: It sounds like some people have physical reactions to this, while for others, it’s more of a nuisance.
Senator Warnick: I hope there’s not too many other folks out there like my friend, my constituent. But there’s still a stigma attached to the growing of marijuana. That’s why I’ve been a little bit slow to put anything out there, because, as I said, I know people have put their life savings into these operations and so I want them to be successful in their business. But I also think we need to learn a little bit more about it. And I have watched what happens in other states and more and more states are approving the use of this and the growing of this. Maybe we can learn a little more if we put this task force together.
Cannabis Wire: Do you have a model from another state that you’re building off of?
Senator Warnick: I don’t at this time. But I’m always open to that. That’s why I wanted to do a task force rather than a full fledged bill, because there might be answers out there and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Cannabis Wire: Just following up on that, have you informally or formally discussed this odor issue with any other regulators in other states?
Senator Warnick: No, I haven’t. But I think this is going to be an issue for a while until the filters and the fans are improved to the point that the odor is minimal. You know, I don’t seem to hear anything about the outdoor grows. And in fact, I heard from the Washington Sun Growers Industry Association right away, “Why are you doing this?” And I said, “I don’t think I’m targeting you folks.” Because it’s not as concentrated.
Cannabis Wire: What kinds of feedback have you gotten since drafting this task force bill, and what do you envision the final outcome to be?
Senator Warnick: I would like to see a good robust discussion among all the folks that I’ve listed here in my bill. The folks that regulate it, state folks, Department of Health, Department of Ag and Ecology, primarily. I’d like to have that good robust discussion and then bring in the public, the folks that actually are the growers, and find out what products are out there. And again, I’m not anti-marijuana per se. It’s a product that voters in our state of Washington have approved the use of and the growing of. I just want to make sure that it’s done in a way that the neighbors will not be affected.