Deschutes County Commission candidates clashed Tuesday over how to handle marijuana regulations, the coming closure of Knott Landfill and the county’s homeless and mentally ill populations.
The debate, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce, included Deschutes County Republican Party Chairwoman Patti Adair; James Cook, a Democrat and chairman of Redmond’s planning commission; Republican Deschutes County Commission Chairman Tony DeBone; and Amy Lowes, a business consultant and former hospice nurse. DeBone and Lowes are running for Position 1 and Adair and Cook are running for Position 3.
On recreational marijuana, a perennial hot topic in the county, Lowes said she’d support rolling back county regulations that are stricter than those in other counties. Cook said he supports current regulations, but not changes commissioners are now discussing that could further limit the distance between marijuana growing operations, regulate how farms control marijuana odor and restrict hours of operation.
“We need to be realistic about it,” Lowes said. “We need to support the science around it, and we need to support this industry.”
Adair, who has been a vocal opponent of recreational marijuana, said many of the county’s proposed additional regulations should be seriously considered. DeBone said he doesn’t agree with all of the “smorgasbord” of ideas to consider about additional regulations.
All candidates agreed that the county needs to find a solution for Knott Landfill, which is expected to be full by 2029.
“We have got to look at what the big picture is and how we keep it effective,” DeBone said.
But Lowes and DeBone clashed over the county’s role in managing recycling.
Lowes said she wanted to see Deschutes County follow Multnomah County in implementing curbside composting and creating a goal for how much waste is recycled.
Recycling could double or triple the costs of the entire countywide solid waste system, DeBone said.
On homeless issues, DeBone said the county needs to make services available when people want them. If they want to live off the grid, the county and its partners have to manage their well-being and health the best they can, he said.
Deschutes County doesn’t have one singular population of homeless people, Cook said. People are homeless for several reasons.
“Some have mental health issues,” Cook said. “Some don’t want to be housed. Some fell through cracks. … We do a disservice when we start a discussion on homelessness and end on a discussion of drugs.”
The homeless population has twice the rate of mental illness as the population at large, Lowes said, and addressing homelessness requires the county to provide access to mental health services.
Current commissioners voted earlier this year to pay about $2 million during the 2019 budget year for a crisis center with limited hours, with a goal to eventually open a 24-hour facility to provide emergency services for people experiencing mental health crises and help people sober up.
That wasn’t enough, Lowes said.
“Funding an addiction center to be open between the hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. is not effective, and I would not have signed off on that as a commissioner,” she said.
Adair said she thought mental health services should extend to educating children about the risks of marijuana use.
“Students here in Oregon, they’re getting stoned every day if they’re not in college, and if they are in college they’re drinking a lot,” she said.
DeBone and Adair both said they weren’t sure about committing to the full cost of a 24-hour stabilization center because of the high cost. But Lowes and Cook said the county should consider the costs of not providing mental health services early on.
The biggest problem in the county’s criminal justice system is people with behavioral health issues, Cook said.
“We have to look at costs of not funding as well as costs of funding,” he said.
The political action committee for the Bend Chamber, which hosted the debate, has endorsed DeBone and declined to endorse a candidate in the Adair-Cook race.
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