By Ted Shorack

The Bulletin

A decision is approaching for Deschutes County commissioners on how best to regulate marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas.

On Monday, county commissioners are expected to make decisions on local zoning and standards for marijuana businesses including retail shops, farming operations, wholesale distribution and processing.

A contingent of Tumalo-area property owners remains adamant the county should “opt out” of implementing Measure 91. The opt out would ban marijuana businesses from operating outside city limits within the county. Nearly 52 percent of Deschutes County voters were in favor of the ballot measure, which legalized recreational marijuana.

Many now opposed to marijuana businesses in Deschutes County have said they voted in favor of the measure not knowing that it would jump-start a whole new industry and pot growing in their area.

State law requires voter opposition to the measure to be at least 55 percent within a county or city for government officials to be allowed to approve an opt out. The soonest Deschutes County could put a proposal to ban marijuana businesses on the ballot would be next November, but it could place a moratorium on the industry in the interim.

Local marijuana business owners are hoping county commissioners will differ Monday from the Deschutes County Planning Commission on growing restrictions.

The planning commission recommended pot only be grown on at least 20 acres within the exclusive farm use zone or in the rural industrial zone.

More than 160 farmers, medical marijuana dispensary owners, processors and others have signed a petition asking property size requirements be thrown out for growing on farmland.

The group also wants the option of growing in zones such as multiple use agricultural and rural residential.

The petition states marijuana farming should be allowed in the other zones “on a case-by-case basis for parcels over 5 acres that meet conditional use permit and setback requirements.”

There have been 65 cities and counties statewide so far that have chosen to opt out of implementing the ballot measure. The option was provided in House Bill 3400 earlier this year.

Deschutes County commissioners were unwilling to exercise the option in August, deciding instead to address the concerns head-on with local regulations.

Nancy Skinner, who lives near Tumalo, wrote to county commissioners earlier this month expressing the need to opt out of the process.

“Why should we rush headlong into conducting the experiment here in Deschutes County with all of its inevitable pitfalls?” Skinner wrote in a public comment submitted via email.

County commissioners would have to decide by Dec. 27 whether to place a ban on marijuana businesses on the November general election ballot.

Some of the proposed regulations include lighting control, noise, odor control and setbacks. Marijuana has been defined as an agricultural crop by House Bill 3400, which could cause challenges to the restrictions.

Oregon has been a right to farm state for 20 years. The law exempts farmers from lawsuits regarding noise, dust, smell and other potential nuisances on farmland.

The Oregon Farm Bureau wrote to county commissioners last week about proposed measures for limiting the smell of marijuana at farm sites and other standards.

“Such regulation of an agricultural commodity invites right to farm litigation on a highly politicized commodity and creates a risk of regulation of cannabis being used as a precedent to regulate other agricultural commodities,” Jenny Dresler, director of state public policy for the Farm Bureau, wrote.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin accepting applications for marijuana businesses Jan. 4. Retail recreational marijuana shops will likely not be open until the fall.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, tshorack@bendbulletin.com

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