State Building Code Leans Away from Smaller Rural Cannabis Farmers

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director
As a political geographer, I understand the core policy and market geography of I 502 cannabis to be shaped by the intersection of Public and Private Real Estate interests. Not WSLCB approval, not taxes, not medical access points, not legislative “fixes” for I 502. The main Public Real Estate interest at stake here is Land Use Governance, which is shaped by Zoning and Building Code rules and regulations.
The latest struggle for inclusionary I 502 policy in that regard is the Washington State’s Building Code Council’s efforts to impose F1 Industrial (ie, Urban Warehouse) building standards on I 502 production and processing that is now and will in the future primarily be Rural and Agricultural.
The first collective efforts to change this are emerging, not surprisingly, by I 502 producer and community organizer Crystal Oliver on the I 502 google group. She has posted her letter  to the Washington State Building Code Council on the group for others to adapt and send. Her fellow community organizer Jamie Curtismith has responded with complementary guidance in support of Crystal’s call.
I reproduce these letters below in support of “Agriculturalizing” Cannabis Policy in Washington State. It’s a great example of the need to consider Cannabis as Social Policy, in this case on behalf of the need for Agricultural rather than Industrial Land Governance.
by Crystal Oliver, Washington’s Finest Cannabis
Dear Washington State Building Code Council,
I am contacting you to voice my opposition of building code proposal IBC 15-035 and my disappointment that this proposal is being considered without a financial impact assessment being completed as it will adversely impact my small business.
My husband & I own and operate a legal WSLCB licensed marijuana farm in Spokane county. We presently grow our cannabis underneath the sun in the soil of our 10 acre farm.  We are coming up on our first year in business and are working busily in the field ourselves from sunrise to sunset hoping for a good harvest this fall so we can pay our mortgage, electricity, keep working for ourselves, provide a few jobs to others in Spokane county, and continue supporting our local community through our commitment to buying supplies and materials from other small local businesses. We had hoped to save up enough this year to install a few greenhouses next year purchased from a local supplier.
Proposal IBC 15-035 will have an extremely profound economic impact on my small business, other small businesses in the area, and quite possibly the future of this new industry and the potential tax revenues the State of Washington hopes to collect.
F1 building code requirements, require fire flow, fire flow generally requires the existence of a municipal water district.  My rural lot, surrounded by farms does not have access to a municipal water supply.
The green house operation that we are dreaming of is far simpler than the greenhouses of my fellow farmers down the road who raise leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and petunias who don’t abide by F1 building codes.  It is extremely unfair to apply more restrictive zoning to the production of marijuana than the production of other plants and vegetables.
This proposal also suggests that processing of marijuana sometimes involves the use of hazardous materials and lists this as reason to prevent farmers from operating on rural properties, however, Spokane County Building & Planning department, in cooperation with our County Commissioners came up with a solution to that.  They permit only limited processing outside Industrial areas.  There are no hazardous materials in use at my processing facility, I simply hand trim the cannabis flowers from my plants, separating the flower from leaf and stem and place them in bags and jars for sale at the retail store.  Spokane County allowed for limited processing to protect the small marijuana farmers in our county who are operating on rural properties.
This proposal, if adopted would prevent small, family farmers, in rural communities from being able to join, compete in, and thrive in this brand new and highly lucrative industry.
Over 20% of the marijuana producers and processors currently licensed by the WSLCB reside in Spokane County.  Many of us are on rural lots where we cannot meet F1 building standards.  A proposal that negatively impacts that large of a portion of this new industry will have a significant impact on sales and tax revenues collected by the state of Washington.
I urge you to decline this proposal as the economic impact that it will have on many small business owners in rural areas throughout the state is too significant to ignore.
Highest Regards,
Crystal Oliver
Managing Member
Washington’s Finest Cannabis

 

by Jamie Curtismith

F1 code compliance is yet another in a long line of strategies to get marijuana operations off rural lands. In Snohomish County, our building inspector (who also happens to be our Fire Marshall) had an ‘IBC interpretation’ that mandated operators to upgrade to these rigorous standards on non-public buildings, which industrializes otherwise straightforward agricultural-use buildings, making them truly manufacturing facilities (not agriculture) and therefore, not allowed in many rural zones. He claimed that his use of F1 had nothing to do with cannabis and more to do with building type, but his application of code became inconsistent and arbitrary as the industry came online and he began to realize the variety of barns, pole buildings, and rigid greenhouses being used.  Of course, the real problem is (other than the expense involved), is that several of the F1 requirements, as Crystal pointed out, are impossible to comply with (and therefore are a defacto ban) because many rural parcels lack the necessary services (power, water, emergency services…etc) to support “industrial use”. Some rural zones allow for manufacturing/industrial, for example, we have a rural light industrial (R1) zone where F1 Buildings would be acceptable, but it is only 0.00013% of the county (or 182 acres) and hasn’t had a parcel available for a few decades!

Caution: When arguing code compliance (IBC) try to avoid muddling the argument with zone compliance. From a building inspectors perspective, they don’t care (or have control over) where the industry is zoned. That is the responsibility of the Local Council. Inspectors only care about the types of buildings used for the purpose of the businesses operating in them. An inspectors job is pretty straight forward; inspect a building and apply IBC. One of the challenges that the marijuana industry has posed to building inspectors is our unrelenting creativity and resourcefulness. The facilities where some grow operations take place have been the most innovative utilizations that most inspectors have ever investigated (cargo containers, converted prefabs, MHUs, storage pods…etc) so there has been a tremendous amount of room for code interpretation around our usage. Not having been officially declared an agricultural crop (and awarded Right to Farm protections), we are viewed as manufacturing, so they are interpreting code accordingly (industrialization). That is why it is IMPERATIVE to get cannabis declared as an agricultural crop, which again, the state building council has nothing to do with, but it doesn’t hurt to keep arguing the ‘cannabis as an agricultural crop’ logic.

Also, many inspectors (and especially Fire Marshals) are still completely oblivious to our processing needs, and still have exploding butane canisters in their minds when they hear the words ‘cannabis extraction’. Most local municipalities have not figured out that processing-only licenses are not tiered, and not all will be extracting, but I don’t think that will stop reefer mad councils from implementing heavy handed measures on them.

Bottomline: This fight is happening on many fronts, among many regulatory authorities simultaneously, and we need all hands on deck to get Cannabis Sativa recognized as an agricultural commodity and get it regulated accordingly, so that ALL producer processors will be protected, not just small and rural growers.

 

Jamie Curtismith

206-491-3802

curti…@hotmail.com

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