Unintended consequences of San Juan style agriculture

San Juan County government is gung-ho about agriculture. Just ask. The council provides funding for an Agriculture Resource Committee, there is a robust tax break program, and it says so in the economic development plan.

There is one catch. The farms should be the pretty fairy tale kind. No sound, no smell, and no neighbors. Think an endless vista of fields of lambs gamboling, baby horses skittering about on unfamiliar feet and serried ranks of grapes, that never vary, never get harvested and the animals never become mutton or glue. Nothing but hobby farms and large properties with swaths of fallow meadows. For those property owners, the county offers tax breaks. If the property owner doesn't quite qualify, no problem. The county will fast track new regulations, withhold funding from the assessor's office or fight with him about how he does his job.

Compassion is shown for owners who live off island and  received tax breaks for farming their woods. Compare that to the treatment islanders received when they tried to set up a legal marijuana growing operation on San Juan Island.

After complaints from a handful of neighbors, the county manager asked the Liquor Control Board to rescind the license. The application had been sent from the LCB to the Town of Friday Harbor rather than the county for review.

The Attorney General's office had to weigh in and tell the county manager, it didn't matter because the LCB wouldn't have considered objections based on land use.

In response to more complaints from the same few, council members took the bold stance of proposing consideration of a moratorium on greenhouses used for marijuana growing facilities. While the idea of a moratorium has been dropped, simultaneously with the shuttering of one of the grow operations - of course entirely coincidental - new regulations for greenhouses are still a possibility. For instance, greenhouses might not be allowed on fertile soil. The fact that building a house or barn doesn't come with such restrictions doesn't seem to matter.

Usually it is with hindsight that unintended consequences seem obvious. In the case of the county government and marijuana growing facilities, they are glaringly visible now.

By aligning themselves with the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), the council has insured that only those with pockets deep enough to fight off costly lawsuits, will be able to operate a marijuana farm. Most likely corporations will end up with the licenses and the farms will be located elsewhere. The jobs and tax revenue will go with them.

By working so diligently against the marijuana farms, which could provide one small part of a solution to the disappearing middle class, the council is propelling the county towards its, perhaps already inevitable, future as a community composed of wealthy retirees and the people who serve them.

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