Marijuana may be legal to grow and consume in Deschutes County, but it still poses challenges for local code and law enforcement, from handling anonymous complaints from neighbors to cracking down on bad actors.

With limited resources to manage the recreational and medical facilities in the county, the Deschutes County Commission is looking at changing its approach by hiring extra personnel and becoming more proactive in making sure growers are following the rules.

“We’re developing a plan where we are acknowledging to the community that we are serious about the illegal activity that’s occurring,” said Commissioner Tammy Baney.

On Monday, the county commission met with officials from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Deschutes County District Attorney’s office and the county’s code enforcement department. The meeting, the commission’s third in a series of public meetings designed to gather a wide range of input from state and local officials before revisiting rules around marijuana, drew a crowd of approximately 35 people.

At the beginning of the meeting, Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson set the tone by giving an impassioned speech, urging the county commission to deny future applications for marijuana greenhouses, on the basis that they’re illegal under federal law, and could harm property values and livability in rural parts of the county.

“I am worried,” Nelson said. “I see an opportunity to stop this here, and I would encourage those applications to be denied.”

Nick Lelack, Deschutes County’s community development director, said during the meeting only nine recreational marijuana facilities are licensed to operate in Deschutes County. However, Baney added that another 1,200 medical growers, with their whereabouts protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, are also operating in the county, with significantly less state-level oversight. Baney said she wants to find a way for the county to be better able to monitor medical growers in the county.

“Today we just say ‘we don’t know,’ and that’s not working for the county,” Baney said.

Some marijuana growers have violated the county’s code regarding topics, such as noise and odor, and Lelack said the problems are compounded when growers prevent county officials from entering their property with gates or dogs.

In addition to standard code violations, Errol LaRue, Deschutes County deputy district attorney, confirmed during the meeting that the DA’s office is investigating illegal activity regarding marijuana growers in the county, but did not provide additional detail.

Nelson and other officials expressed frustration that monitoring marijuana greenhouses takes resources away from county departments that could be used on other issues.

“It frustrates me, because it’s against the law,” Nelson said. “The fact that I’m spending time on something that’s against the law blows my mind.”

During the meeting, the county commission mulled changing the way the county’s community development department responds to marijuana code violations, which relies heavily on complaints from neighbors. Thus far, the county has received 73 neighbor complaints about marijuana, according to Lori Furlong, administrative manager for the county’s community development department. However, Furlong added that a fear of retaliation from marijuana growers could be silencing neighbors.

The commission was interested in switching to a more proactive approach, potentially including unscheduled site inspections. There was additional interest in bringing on an additional detective for the sheriff’s office, who would focus exclusively on marijuana and serve as a liaison with the community.

Patti Adair, chair of the Deschutes County Republican Party and a vocal critic of marijuana in rural communities, praised the tone of the meeting, and said a more aggressive approach is needed.

“It’s so much better for us to be on offense,” Adair said.

Andrew Anderson, owner of the recreational marijuana company Plantae Health, said after the meeting that most of the problems were coming from medical facilities, which give some of the newer, recreational facilities a bad name.

“We’re held to way different standards,” Anderson said of recreational growers.

The county will conclude its series of meetings next week, when officials from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission sit down with the Deschutes County Commission at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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