Benton County commissioners upheld a temporary restriction on new marijuana production facilities in parts of the county, paving the way for a permanent ban in the coming months.
The decision Tuesday came during a standing-room-only meeting at the Prosser courthouse where residents of a Kennewick neighborhood raised concerns about a pot farm being built uphill from the future Desert Hills Middle School.
Residents told commissioners the proposed pot farm would bring crime to the neighborhood, cause property taxes to drop, put children in harms way, lower the quality of life and leave an odor in the area.
More than a dozen Benton County residents urged commissioners to keep pot farms out of residential neighborhoods for good.
“This causes us a lot of concern,” said Linda Bauer, who lives near the proposed farm on South Clodfelter Road.
The ban — which applies only to properties within the rural lands five-acre district — could force Justin Schneider to shut down his proposed farm in Kennewick. Schneider says his family already has paid about $120,000 for the land and modifications to it.
Schneider has applied for a Tier 3 license, though the state has not yet granted him one, he said.
The rural lands five-acre district also includes most of Finley and much of the county land next to Interstate 82 and city boundaries.
There are a handful of legal marijuana grows currently operating in the district, and there have been no problems until the grow on South Clodfelter Road popped up, said Commissioner Jerome Delvin.
Delvin said there hadn’t been much talk of a ban within the district or countywide restrictions on marijuana before the neighbors raised concerns.
But now after hearing citizens’ frustrations, he expects commissioners to start exploring the possibility of putting a countywide moratorium on marijuana-related businesses.
“I’m sure there will be discussions,” he said.
Schneider, who lives in Selah and was raised on a dairy farm, said he chose the land because he felt it was out of the way and wouldn’t interfere with life in the neighborhood. The process has frustrated Schneider, who says he will consider suing the county if he isn’t allowed to continue his business.
“I am not happy with their decision,” he said after the meeting. “To base it off of a bunch of people that are upset, uneducated and have never read the law. They just want to think old school.”
Although the majority of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting supported a ban, a handful were opposed to the commissioners stepping in and restricting pot farms from starting up.
Opponents of the ban told commissioners marijuana farms could create jobs, boost the local economy, pay for community service programs and help deter crime because of all of their surveillance cameras.
James Stevens of Kennewick said continuing the ban on new marijuana farms would be a “step backwards” and commissioners should respect the fact that voters statewide legalized recreational marijuana.
“Who are you people to tell us we can’t if we have already spoken?” he said during the meeting.
Commissioners Delvin and Shon Small indicated they support a permanent ban within the rural lands five-acre district, a process that may take about four months to complete.
Commissioner Jim Beaver could not attend the meeting because of a medical issue, but county Administrator David Sparks said Beaver supports a ban.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to reflect a correction. Justin Schneider runs a proposed marijuana farm in Kennewick, not the proposed LLV Green farm on South Clodfelter Road.