The Cache County Council will resume deliberations in March on ordinances that will govern where and how medical marijuana can be grown locally.
CACHE COUNTY – While recent changes to state law will legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes in Cache Valley, the Cache County Council must still decide where and how that farming will take place.
Local officials have fairly firm ideas about how that cultivation should be done, but where it might take place is still very much up in the air.
Although recreational use of marijuana (also know as cannabis) remains illegal throughout Utah, cannabis oil and the medicinal use of marijuana recently became legal under certain circumstances.
State law now permits the growing of cannabis in Utah by licensed growers. Their products can then be distributed from state-regulated dispensaries at the recommendation of physicians who are registered with the Utah Department of Health.
During recent county council deliberations on the cannabis issue, development director Chris Harrild explained that state law doesn’t allow Cache County to totally ban the cultivation of medical marijuana.
But the council does have the option of limiting cannabis growing to agricultural or industrial zones created specifically for that purpose, Harrild added.
After an open hearing on the topic drew no public comment on Jan. 26, the council members engaged in a lengthy debate exploring their options with Herrild and John Luthy, from the county attorney’s staff.
The issue is a “tricky” one for local officials, according to Luthy. If the county attempts to make the areas in which cannabis cultivation is allowed so restrictive as to discourage such farming entirely, that violates state law.
In making such a decision, local officials also run the risk of violating the spirit of private property rights by selectively limiting the type of crops that a landowner can legally grow.
Ultimately, the council members deferred any decision on where cannabis cultivation might take place, sending county staffers back for additional consultation with state officials on the issue.
Harrild predicted that the cannabis cultivation issue would reappear on the county council’s agenda sometime in March.
Although Harrild was prepared to move ahead with a county ordinance governing the “how” of local marijuana farming on Jan. 26, the council members opted to defer any decision on that as well.
The provisions of Harrild’s proposed Ordinance 2021-01 would bring local land use guidelines into compliance with State Code governing the Utah Medical Cannabis Program.
Under the proposed county ordinance, a licensed and permitted cannabis production establishment could only be located in an agricultural or industrial zone in the unincorporated areas of Cache County.
The minimum lot size for a hypothetical cannabis facility will be 10 acres. The location of such a facility must also have “reasonable separation” from areas zoned for residential and other incompatible land uses.
Under the proposed ordinance, the actual cultivation of the cannabis plants must take place within an enclosed permitted structure on a permanent foundation.
The ordinance also stipulates that such cannabis greenhouses must use “an air filtration and ventilation system with odor mitigation technology…to prevent odors generated from the facility from escaping onto neighboring properties.”
The technologies recommended by county officials for odor mitigation include activated carbon filtration, electrostatic precipitation and negative ion generation.
The odor reduction effort must be sufficiently effective that “the odor (from the cultivation facility) cannot be reasonably detected by a person of normal sensitivity at the property line,” according to the proposed ordinance.
Medical conditions for which Utah physicians can prescribe medical marijuana use include HIV or AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Epilepsy, Multiple sclerosis, Autism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Under Utah’s medical marijuana statutes, the smoking of cannabis is prohibited, as are edible products like brownies, cookies and candy. Cannabis is commonly available from state dispensaries in the form of tablets, capsules, concentrated oil, salves and wax or resin. Medical marijuana in flower form can be legally vaped in Utah, however.