Deschutes tightens marijuana dispensary rules

Temporary ban in unincorporated areas, does not apply in cities

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Medical marijuana dispensaries will immediately be banned in unincorporated areas of Deschutes County at least through May 1, 2015, following a vote of county commissioners Monday.

The moratorium does not apply in incorporated communities of Deschutes County, including Bend, Redmond, Sisters and La Pine, where city laws apply.

Redmond has adopted a similar prohibition, while the Sisters City Council has voted to continue studying the issue.

Last summer, the Oregon Legislature approved new regulations to allow dispensaries to begin operating more like traditional retailers and less like the “clubs” that previously existed, in which medical marijuana cardholders could obtain marijuana in exchange for a cash donation.

The state began processing applications for the dispensaries on March 3.

Earlier this month, the Legislature passed a measure allowing cities and counties to adopt a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

All three Deschutes County commissioners voted in favor of adopting the local moratorium Monday, but said that they expect to revisit the issue shortly, as the ban will expire in a little over a year.

Testimony was sharply tilted toward not implementing a moratorium, with multiple dispensary owners and medical marijuana patients attending Monday’s meeting to address the commissioners.

Todd Horrex, a La Pine resident, said he has been attempting to open a dispensary in an unincorporated area along Burgess Road. Horrex said most of the medical marijuana cardholders he’s met in the La Pine area are on Social Security or disability and don’t have the funds to frequently travel to Bend to obtain marijuana.

Jessica Jacks, who works with Deschutes County Health Services, told commissioners she’d like to see the county go beyond the one-year moratorium and adopt regulations to curb youth marijuana use.

Jacks said Oregon already leads the country in the percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds using marijuana, and commissioners should consider a ban on marijuana-infused candies and similar products, require dispensaries to tell buyers how to secure drugs from kids, as well as restrict signs and other marketing by dispensaries.

“The more our kids see marijuana, marijuana leaves, advertised, the more likely they are to assume everyone is using marijuana, which we know is not the case,” Jacks said.

Inge Fryklund, a former assistant state’s attorney in Illinois and member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said there’s no reason to believe allowing dispensaries in rural Deschutes County would expand youth access to marijuana.

“Dispensaries are super conscious about keeping their noses clean,” she said. “This is not going to be a venue for selling to children.”

William Kemp, a medical marijuana cardholder, said the prescription drugs he used to take for his chronic back pain nearly killed him. Since discovering CBD — a variety of marijuana that produces a less “high” effect for the user — Kemp said he no longer feels “dopey or loopy” like he did when he used to take Percocet and Percodan.

“To deny somebody their medicine is wrong to do in any way, shape or form,” Kemp said.

Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton told commissioners it was “critical” they adopt the moratorium, as he had requested late last month.

Blanton said the number of medical marijuana cardholders in Deschutes County has grown more than tenfold since 2006 and that such cards are “extremely easy” to obtain. He applauded Redmond for adopting its citywide moratorium, and said adopting a similar moratorium for the county is “the most important thing facing our society today, in terms of public safety and quality of life.”

Bob Spackman asked commissioners to take advantage of the opportunity to adopt a moratorium to make sure they craft the appropriate regulations on dispensaries and their operation.

“I think we have an opportunity to just slow down. ... We’re talking about a year, not forever,” he said.

Even while adopting the temporary ban on dispensaries, commissioners spoke approvingly about the use of medical marijuana.

Commissioner Tammy Baney said she believes there is “value and necessity in medical marijuana,” while Commissioner Alan Unger recalled a friend with cancer who currently uses medical marijuana.

Unger said Monday’s action doesn’t take away medical marijuana patients’ access, but will give the county more time to consider its next steps.

“Right now, if you want to access this drug, there are plenty of places you can do it,” Unger said. “So sort of what we’re doing is taking what’s there today, and moving forward, without allowing it to be proliferated in the rural part of the county.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com