Growers Seek ‘Farm’ Classification to Avoid Odor Penalties

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By Chris Roberts

To most noses, a farm by any other name would not smell as sweet as Green Freedom, Justin Wildhaber’s legal marijuana cultivation operation in western Washington state. One need not have lived next door to a dairy farm to recognize the difference between the olfactory pleasures of rows of cannabis plants and, say, the “grassy” notes of manure.
But since Wildhaber is growing cannabis, Green Freedom is not, technically or legally, a “farm.” In turn, that makes the pine, skunk and lemon smells wafting from the terpenes in the tops of his plants’ colas a violation of clean-air laws, rather than a fact of life in ag-land.

The answer is in the question: According to state laws, cannabis is outside the norm. But in what could be a precedent-setting case, Wildhaber is moving to have his marijuana farm officially classified as a “farm.” If he succeeds, cannabis odors will be treated in the same way as other farm smells, meaning they won’t be punished. More importantly, marijuana farmers will be a step closer to being treated as other workers of the land.

Capital Press has the news of Wildhaber’s appeal to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board. Thus far, the board has deemed that marijuana plantings don’t deserve the same protections as feedlots, ranches and farms from penalties for odor and dust because cannabis farms are too small — less than five acres, and ergo don’t qualify as “agricultural land.”

Other arguments against giving cannabis grows farm status include the fact that the plant is still regulated under state drug-control laws and isn’t taxed like other agricultural products. Sales of marijuana in Washington state are subject to a total levy of 37 percent, much higher than tomatoes or apples or other produce.

Wildhaber and Green Freedom were twice assessed fines of $1,000 after investigators detected the smell of marijuana on a neighbor’s property, Capital Press reported, after a neighbor made “dozens of complaints” about the smell of marijuana.

Investigators visited and detected a smell strong enough to be “distinct and recognizable,” or a “2” on a scale of “0 to 4.” Four, the strongest smell, means it caused a “physical reaction,” Capital Press reported.

Wildhaber will host officials from the pollution control board at his farm on Jan. 18, who will then debate the merits of farm status at an ensuing two-day hearing.

Logic would dictate that Wildhaber has a real case. The operative verb in cannabis farming is “farm.” Don’t farmers farm on a farm — and wouldn’t that make Green Freedom, to bludgeon the point to death, a “farm?”

Lara Kaminsky, the executive director of The Cannabis Alliance, a Washington state-based marijuana advocacy group, certainly thinks so.

At least some state lawmakers would disagree. An effort to add marijuana to Washington’s official definitions of farms failed after a committee vote. According to state Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake), marijuana odors should not be treated like other “farm smells” because “there’s something in marijuana that can effect [sic] your nervous system,” he told the newspaper.

In this, he is not entirely wrong. While you can’t become stoned merely from smelling raw cannabis — THC appears in the marijuana plant as THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, and must be heated, or decarboxylated, before it becomes THC — the cannabis plant’s terpenes may be potent enough to have application in aromatherapy, which is more than can be said for other “farm smells.”

Original Publications in Cannabis Now.