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Passing the smell test: Neighbors, lawmakers want pot industry to keep the smell inside


Passing the smell test: Neighbors, lawmakers want pot industry to keep the smell inside

Feb 04, 2023 | 11:17 am ET
By Darrell Ehrlick
Passing the smell test: Neighbors, lawmakers want pot industry to keep the smell inside
David Burr displays the bud on a growing marijuana plant at Essence Vegas' 54,000-square-foot marijuana cultivation facility on July 6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Some likened the smell to flowers or described it as “floral.” Other said the stench is like a skunk that won’t leave.

Depending on where you live and what direction the wind blows, the smell of marijuana growers is ruining some neighborhoods, according to Rep. Jedidiah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, who wants pot cultivators to install air filtration systems so the smell of weed doesn’t seep out into other areas.

Hinkle said that some areas in the state, especially in Four Corners in Gallatin County, are overrun with the smell of marijuana being grown. The strong smell isn’t associated with any health risks, and most “grow operations” are located in rural areas, by design. However, Hinkle said the smell is driving some from the rural areas because they can’t even open their windows without smelling like a marijuana dispensary.

On Wednesday, growers, sellers and marijuana industry representatives turned out to speak against House Bill 304, which would require the odor be contained indoors. They said that many operations are already located in rural areas where farming, manufacturing and other businesses can give olfactory offense.

Moreover, they pointed out that while 22,000 acres of hemp is grown in Montana, that smell is identical to the odor of marijuana – the only difference is that hemp doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the chemical that produces the high or euphoric feeling. Meanwhile, Montana has around 40 acres of space dedicated to commercial marijuana farming, most of it indoors. They said that the state would not dream of regulating hemp farms, nor has anyone complained.

They suspect the problem isn’t so much with the nose, but the brain.

“It’s only because it’s the smell of sin, and they don’t enjoy it,” said Adam Arnold of Collective Elevation.

He said that marijuana agriculture is no different than smelling a cow pasture or feed lot, both things also legal in Montana’s rural areas.

“We don’t need extra filters on places that serve barbeque because the smell may get out and a vegetarian may be offended,” he said.

He said complying with the measure would take more than $100,000.

Much of the discussion centered around the Four Corners area, an unincorporated area near Bozeman where many operations are located. Marijuana industry representatives pointed out that local zoning had not only pushed the operations away from the city into rural areas, but that the county was supportive of the activity because it’s contributing significant cash to government coffers through a local-option tax.

Others still said that the real issue boiled down to one or two operators being bad neighbors, but Hinkle’s bill amounted to punishing the entire industry. Many who testified said that new air handling systems would be exorbitant and force them out of business.

Trent Ryles of Gallatin Gateway said that he and his wife had built their “forever home” to enjoy the rural nature and be close to Bozeman. Now, that house is up for sale because of the strong marijuana odor and the problem with the owner of the business. Even worse, he said they’ve lost buyers because of the smell and his property will suffer a devaluation because of it.

“It’s taking the last best place and going to make it the first worst place,” he said.

Four Corners business owner John McCosland told the committee that he’s lost customers at his business because they couldn’t stand being in his shop due to the marijuana smell.

Michele Maidens built her home in Gallatin Gateway in 2014 and said a marijuana cultivator who is her neighbor refuses to keep his promises.

“It is like smelling a skunk 24/7,” she said. “We don’t want to sell our home, but we have no choice.”

She said county land planners are not concerned because it’s in a rural area.

“We may live in the boondocks, but our neighbors here have a community,” Maiden said.

Tim Inman, a resident of Gallatin Gateway, pleaded with lawmakers to pass the bill.

“We’ll be selling our house unless you guys can come through,” he said.

But marijuana businesses pushed back, saying that the state had intentionally given power to the counties to regulate business and zoning.

“It sounds like the right time to object to this would have been during the commercial use permit,” Arnold said.

Roy Noland who works in the marijuana industry, but also spent 28 years in industrial hygiene dealing with indoor air quality said the bill presents a number of problems, including outlawing smell that can be detected by an average person.

“Every person – every inspector – will have a different sense of smell,” he said.

Noland said that things like energy, mood and physical condition can affect the sense of smell, and that humans mentally build “odor objects.” He gave the example of a rose – most people have an idea of what it’s supposed to smell like or think they can detect it even by looking at.

“Enforcement is going to be a real challenge,” he said.

Many of the growing operations already use a lot of electricity – for fans, equipment and filters to create enough negative pressure to keep odors in may be impossible without significant electrical upgrades, Noland said.

Many of the people who testified or arrived in Helena had six-figure price tags to comply with the law, capital they said they didn’t have and could risk shutting them down.

“The fact is agriculture stinks,” said Pepper Petersen of the Montana Cannabis Guild. “But agriculture comes first in Montana and these are agriculture jobs and these folks pay a lot of taxes.

“This is the smell of money.”

If lawmakers want to explore this area, the pro-pot advocates suggested studying the issue during the interim before adopting what they characterized as an arbitrary law.

They also suggested that if lawmakers are serious about controlling agriculture smells, that all agriculture be included.

“This is a failure of local zoning. If there is a problem, I feel for them. That’s a local failure, if that’s not what they wanted,” said Erin Bolster of Tamarack Cannabis in the Flathead area. “But you’re punishing the rest of us. If you’re looking for a smell, then you can find. The law, as it is written here, would be no smell, which is impossible.”

Hinkle responded that other agriculture in Montana has been long established, whereas marijuana is new.

“This is a new problem with the recreational industry because there are a lot of businesses in place,” he said. “But take the sugar beet factory in Billings. It’s been established for a long time. And whether you want to work there or live next to it is easy because it has been established, but marijuana is in its infancy and if we don’t address it now, we’ll have less of a chance (later).”