By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

The Bend City Council adopted a stricter set of rules governing the sale of recreational marijuana than recommended by an advisory committee and the city’s planning commission, a move that elicited criticism from some members of the marijuana industry.

The most controversial aspect of the rules concerns buffers that limit where future recreational marijuana outlets will be able to locate. The buffers, which were debated at a meeting that stretched past midnight last week, require recreational outlets to be 1,000 feet from schools and other recreational outlets, as well as 150 feet from day care centers and parks. An advisory committee that included representatives of the marijuana industry, attorneys, a doctor and a Bend-La Pine School Board member voted to support a less restrictive set of buffers.

Some members of the marijuana industry say the rules will distort competition among future retail outlets, while supporters say tougher rules make sense given that this is new territory for the city.

Never up for debate was the limitation that recreational outlets could only be located in commercial areas, which in Bend includes 2,680 properties. The buffers recommended by the advisory committee and endorsed by the planning commission only included the provisions concerning schools and day cares. That set of buffers rules out 712 of the 2,680 commercial properties from hosting a marijuana outlet.

Adding in the park buffer, which the Bend Park & Recreation District lobbied for, increases the number of excluded properties to 889. The impact of the spacing requirement of 1,000 feet between recreational outlets, however, is potentially major.

To model the policy’s impact, city planners looked at what would happen if all of the city’s existing 18 medical dispensaries became recreational outlets, something that those in the industry say is possible. If that were to happen, 1,826 properties would be excluded, a figure that is nearly 70 percent of all commercial properties.

Jeremy Kwit, president of Bloom Well medical dispensary and an advisory committee member, said this week all of these buffers are being laid over what is already a brutal commercial leasing market. Two of the region’s largest commercial property companies, Compass Commercial and Fratzke, don’t do business with marijuana businesses of any kind, which Kwit says severely limits where they can locate.

“The stigma and demonization of cannabis is now cemented into municipal code,” Kwit said.

Kwit added if the city’s policies are intended to limit youth access to marijuana, they won’t work.

“The fact that they did this to, quote, save the children is poor policy and doesn’t solve the problem of youth access,” he said. “Research shows youth get cannabis and alcohol from within their own household or from their friends’ house. Arbitrarily limiting where these businesses can locate doesn’t do anything.”

He also argued the 1,000-foot buffer between recreational outlets will distort competition, echoing a concern voiced by a number of industry members at a hearing before the council’s vote.

“What it does is it provides an operator who may not be the best with a geographic monopoly around a particular part of the community,” Kwit said.

He also criticized the parks buffer as hypocritical, noting the district has long allowed the sale of alcohol within parks at events and will soon sell it at the ice rink currently under construction.

“At Munch and Music, there’s a beer tent right next to the jumpy house,” Kwit said. “I think the council was playing politics and giving the park district what they wanted. It was also so late, and there wasn’t really enough time to debate anything. Maybe they just got tired.”

Councilor Nathan Boddie resisted making the policies tougher at the meeting but voted in favor of them because the council needed to act unanimously to have them take effect before the state begins licensing recreational outlets in 2016.

Boddie said he didn’t think it was worth “making a stink” and threatening to withhold his vote, saying, “In the end, I don’t think those buffers will make a big difference.”

“I don’t think Bend is going to be suddenly overrun with new businesses,” Boddie added. “It wouldn’t work out economically, so I suspect we’ll have the same number of marijuana businesses as we do now (in terms of medical dispensaries). A different set of buffers wouldn’t have changed the market all that much.”

Councilor Doug Knight supported the tougher limits, saying he liked the idea of keeping recreational outlets spaced by at least 1,000 feet because the state requires such a distance between medical dispensaries. He also noted that the clustering of business types can create new problems that don’t arise when one type of business is dispersed throughout town.

“I’m approaching this with the utmost caution,” Knight said. “As (Councilor) Sally Russell said, it’s virtually impossible to take back a freedom that has been granted. It’s good to be cautious in our approach when so much is unknown.”

Cheri Helt, a school board member who participated on the advisory committee, said she was pleased by the decision. On the committee, Helt had advocated for tougher rules than even the council adopted.

Something that gives her pause, however, is that the council voted to allow a “grandfathering” period of one year, during which medical dispensaries will be able to convert to recreational even if they violate a new buffer rule.

For example, an existing dispensary located next to a day care could become a recreational outlet if it transitioned sometime during the next year. After that one year period, a dispensary would no longer be able to convert unless it met all buffer requirements.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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