Our Voice: Why does Benton County vary its pot farm zones?

Benton County was one of the first to give the green light to businesses associated with the state’s now-legal marijuana industry.

In fact, the county was one of the few jurisdictions to almost immediately say it would follow the state law adopted after voters legalized marijuana in Washington state, rather than fight it. Most other area governments have passed a series of temporary moratoriums or enacted outright bans on pot businesses of any type. We have supported Benton County’s decision to follow the law, even though people here are fond of pointing out it didn’t pass locally. Majority rules on state initiatives, regardless of geography.

And for quite a while, Benton County took surprisingly little heat from residents over its decision to allow pot farms to operate in its boundaries. But, then, a person looking to take advantage of the new opportunities decided to build a pot farm in a more affluent neighborhood.

Now commissioners have passed an emergency zoning ordinance to stop it. A public hearing is planned for 9 a.m. June 2 in Prosser.

The temporary ban on pot farms is specific, applying to property within the “rural lands five-acre district,” which includes much of Finley and county land adjacent to Interstate 82 and city limits.

It also includes the land that drew the ire of the neighbors in the Clodfelter Road area where the pot farm was proposed, which happens to also be near the future home of Desert Hills Middle School.

But the proposed farm is far enough from the school site that its proximity would not have prevented the state from issuing it a license.

The greater concerns seemed to be those coming from neighbors.

The proposed ordinance amendment says the worries include the “pungent aroma of a marijuana crop, the possible attraction of criminal activity to areas where marijuana is grown, and aesthetic concerns regarding lighting and other security measures either required by a state license or electively installed by growers of marijuana.”

The intent of the ordinance is to put a temporary stop to any new pot production facilities in the “rural land five-acre district.” It has no effect on existing operations.

The county says the purpose of the provisional ban on new businesses is to give its staff some time to determine if pot farms are a compatible use of property within that zoning area “without the possibility that additional marijuana production operations will commence or that operators will flood the county with applications for permits” allowed under the existing zoning.”

Commissioners are supposed to listen to their constituents. Property owners have the right to use their land for purposes allowed under state law and zoning ordinances. The county has the right to make merited changes to zoning.

The county needs to proceed with care and make a decision that is prudent and based on proper uses for land in the zoning area and that treats all areas of the county in a fair manner and not one based on demographics.