Washington State to Form Marijuana Odor Task Force

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A newly established crew is set to examine issues related to cannabis odors as some in the industry question the need for more regulation.

It can be difficult to truly encapsulate the burdens of regulations on small growers.

From tagging, weighing, and tracking every plant to compounding tax rates, cannabis farmers in California have been very vocal in decrying what they see as a system rigged in favor of the wealthy and well-connected. Their concerns largely regard regulations, with complaints being levied against both their volume and severity.

Though California may draw the lion’s share of attention, it is certainly not an isolated incident. Up in Washington, news of a forthcoming Marijuana Odor Task Force has once more directed the spotlight on questions of excessive regulation when it comes to legal cannabis at the state level.

On the surface, a task force devoted to smells seems like a Dr. Seuss fever dream coupled with a splash of Orwellian dystopia. There is, however, a genuine need for more information on the issue. Given the frequency with which it enters the discourse, the time has come to either definitively dismiss these marijuana odor falsehoods or to gain some proof that cannabis odors can, in fact, hurt people.

The latest movement on this needle comes courtesy of Washington state, where regulators are “believed to be among the first in the nation to take a closer look at an issue that has bedeviled cannabis growers and sparked costly lawsuits targeting the marijuana industry: odor emanating from growers and processors,” according to MJBizDaily.

Without question, complaints of foul odors have been used to delay or outright foil cannabis processors and growers in states with adult-use sales. However, gauging the validity of these complaints – in conjunction with establishing what constitutes an “acceptable” odor level – is a far murkier issue.

In truth, many mainstream agricultural businesses deal with similar complaints. However, while livestock ranchers and poultry producers ostensibly have the backing of the federal government to support them from unfair legal action, state cannabis industries are, by contrast, on their own. Thus, Washington state’s choice to convene a Marijuana Odor Task Force.

“Unfortunately, I think it’s necessary to address all the public outcry,” Shawn Wagenseller, CEO of Arlington-based cannabis cultivator WA Bud Co., told MJBizDaily. “But I believe the complaints are coming from a very small percentage of opponents to cannabis.”

Wagenseller’s hunch speaks to ongoing lawsuits in numerous states that feature plaintiffs alleging lost property value and diminished capacity to enjoy the land as a result of unwanted cannabis smells. Though there are, statically, some portion of growers who are likely not taking the requisite care to mask their crop’s odor, the nebulous assertion that an aroma is “too much” is also easily weaponized by those who oppose cannabis businesses for unrelated reasons.

Announced by press release on August 10, the Marijuana Odor Task Force is reportedly on hold as it searches for a third-party vendor who can assess and report on odors and their alleged public health risks. The task force’s creation came as a requirement from Senate Bill 6168, which went into effect in Washington state in April.

As the task force continues its search, Washington cannabis operators can only wait and hope that whatever conclusions are eventually drawn don’t equate to financial ruin.

Far from being a hyperbolic extreme, the truth is that regulations regarding odor could easily cost companies more than they have. When one factors square footage and the ongoing pandemic into a hypothetical requirement demanding, say, an extremely high-end ventilation system that’s above and beyond what’s already mandated today, that alone could be enough to bankrupt some of the smallest players in the field.

And, on top of everything else, it’s certainly not as though operators on the level want to be seen as scent polluters around town.

“Obviously, we don’t want to have a negative impact on our community,” Caitlein Ryan, interim director of The Cannabis Alliance in Seattle, told MJBizDaily.

“It’s more cost of compliance that I don’t really want to divert resources to,” Alex Cooley, co-founder of Seattle cannabis cultivator Solstice, shared with the outlet. “But I also want to be a good neighbor.”

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