When the public hearing on a proposed moratorium and potential ban in Deschutes County on businesses involving marijuana opens Wednesday morning, a representative of Canna Tea LLC is expected to be there, said company CEO Rustin Kluge.

Kluge’s 20-acre farm is one of the larger commercial marijuana operations in the county , he said. Kluge provides an umbrella for several growers, who supply more than 40 medical marijuana patients and sell the excess to cannabis dispensaries.

A financier who specializes in funding marijuana businesses, Kluge said Canna Tea has so far created 120 jobs, from lawyers to landscapers. He looks forward to entering the market for recreational marijuana when it opens up next year, supplying not only the plant but also a holistic tea made from the nonpsychoactive portion of the marijuana plant.

“We feel the more we can educate the community about how this industry is working, the better off we’ll be,” Kluge said Thursday. “We understand the fears or reactions we’re getting. We understand that.”

Now a move is underway to gauge public sentiment for banning some or all commercial activity associated with recreational marijuana and any new permits for growing or dispensing medical marijuana in the unincorporated areas of Deschutes County.

The time for that discussion is now, before the six-month window the Legislature gave cities and counties to impose such bans expires, said Tony DeBone, chairman of the Deschutes County Commission.

Two public hearings are scheduled, at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, to gather public input on a possible ban, according to the commission office.

Kluge said that dismantling a growing industry will only hurt the local economy. He foresees the day when federal law changes to allow Oregon, and Deschutes County, to ship marijuana around the country.

The Oregon Health Authority in July reported 2,313 medical marijuana growers in Deschutes County and 1,742 grow sites. The number of growers increased by five since January, and the number of grow sites decreased by 88, according to OHA reports.

Some will likely apply for licenses to grow, process or sell recreational marijuana, or some combination of those activities, when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission starts accepting applications in January.

DeBone said he’s not against personal use of marijuana, or commerce involving cannabis as a whole. The question, he said, is whether all the commercial cannabis activities to be licensed by the OLCC and those already permitted by the OHA are appropriate everywhere in the county.

“As commissioners, we’re not representing land use in the cities, but the land use outside the cities,” he said. “Are we going to see investments for large commercial operations? And there’s a difference between production, growing the plant and cutting the crop, but also warehousing, distribution, processing, packaging for retail. Is that appropriate in an (exclusive farm use) zone; in some of these rural residential areas? That’s the interesting discussion.”

DeBone said that if the county does not opt for any ban, it must address marijuana as a zoning question, anyway. He suggested that large commercial farms on lots of 5 or 10 acres minimum, for example, could grow marijuana that’s processed or stored in commercial areas in Bend or elsewhere. If the county rejects a ban, marijuana would be treated like any other agricultural crop, especially in exclusive farm use zones.

Opting out of commercial marijuana is a pressing question for marijuana businesses, too, said Nick Lelack, director of the county Community Development Department. Questions from prospective cannabis entrepreneurs and existing growers and processors arrive every day. He also sees an increasing number of land-use applications for greenhouses and accessory buildings, many of which are related to cannabis growing. That signals significant investment in not only land but also building materials, growing supplies and even LED grow lights.

“We receive applications all the time,” Lelack said Wednesday. “We just aim to provide everybody with the best information that we can. There is some risk in making those investments given that the OLCC hasn’t finished its rule-making, the Board of County Commissioners hasn’t decided whether to effectively opt in or opt out and then, of course, it could be subject to change by the voters in 2016.”

The Legislature gave cities and counties the chance to opt out of commercial marijuana, but lawmakers allowed them only 180 days from June 30 to act. Six local governments, so far — one county and five cities on opposite ends of Oregon — have enacted local laws banning all business activity related to recreational marijuana, according to the OLCC. Douglas County, along with the cities of Brownsville and Sandy, all in Western Oregon, must submit those bans to a popular vote in November 2016. The cities of Nyssa, Vale and Ontario in Eastern Oregon enacted immediate bans.

Local governments in 15 counties where voters opposed Measure 91 by 55 percent or greater may enact an immediate ban by simply passing a law, according to the Association of Oregon Counties.

Deschutes County, where 51.8 percent of voters in November approved Measure 91, may enact a ban on any or all commercial activity involving marijuana, but must put any question of a ban on marijuana businesses before voters in November 2016. Voters could ban all or some commercial marijuana activity in unincorporated areas of the county.

Calling for a vote would automatically impose a moratorium on the OLCC from awarding any of the four recreational marijuana licenses: producing, processing, retailing or wholesaling and the OHA from granting any more permits to processors and dispensaries in the county, said David Doyle, Deschutes County counsel. Existing medical marijuana businesses would not be affected, and neither would personal recreational use, growing and possession of marijuana under Measure 91.

Incorporated cities such as Bend, La Pine, Redmond and Sisters would not be affected by a county ban.

Michael Boynton, a cannabis grower in La Pine with plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Madras, said he planned on applying to the OLCC for all four licenses for recreational marijuana. He originally grew cannabis in La Pine but moved his growing operation outside the city limits after neighbors complained about the aroma, he said. The complaints disappeared with the move, he said.

“The typical complaints (were) about smell, but it got out of hand,” he said, “it got to a feuding neighbor thing.”

DeBone said neighbors of Kluge’s 7-month-old operation in Alfalfa were concerned when they saw a fence and security cameras on his property. The caller described barbed wire and a secure gate.

“‘You gotta come see it;’ that’s the call I got a couple of times,” he said.

Kluge said he’s required to screen his marijuana growing from public view; the gate and security cameras are precautionary measures to guard against theft. Most of the community is OK with the site, he said.

“Ninety-eight percent of the people in Alfalfa, I would say, really are happy we are there, for many reasons,” Kluge said. “It’s completely false that we are bringing down property values. I know people in Alfalfa that have been growing there for 10, 15 years.”

Kluge, who relocated from Florida to Oregon, described his methods as careful; he screens potential investors to weed out those who think they’ll make money fast. He uses organic growing methods, he said, and he relies on solar power for electricity. He said the public should think of the cannabis industry as it thinks of other craft industries in Oregon.

“We want to bring value,” Kluge said. “We want the community to feel we’re bringing value and treat us like they treat our craft brewing and wine industries. That’s who we are.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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