A proposed marijuana production and processing facility in Alfalfa won’t move forward after the Deschutes County Commission learned that some of the business partners involved had been arrested for weed-related crimes.
The denial highlights an unusual situation that began with a neighbor appealing the proposed facility at 25450 Walker Road east of Bend. While the neighbor cited many concerns, chief among them were the people associated with project.
In the appeal, the neighbor argued the credibility of the applicant, California resident Mark Weisheit, because two men associated with the project were recently arrested for marijuana-related crimes in Central Oregon.
Problems for the application began when Sam Onat — who was originally listed as a member of Weisheit’s company, High Desert Agriculture Inc. — was arrested in February for crimes related to his alleged role in an illegal growing operation in La Pine.
Onat, 51, has been charged with unlawful manufacture and delivery of marijuana, as well as one count of laundering a monetary instrument.
When commissioners learned of Onat’s arrest, they decided to give the applicant more time to see how Onat’s case was resolved.
But over the course of deliberating the appeal, commissioners then learned of the arrest of Onat’s son, Jacob Onat, who in public testimony in January said he would be closely involved with the operations.
In mid-May, Onat, 23, was arrested for four counts of illegally delivering, possessing, manufacturing, importing and exporting marijuana, as well as four counts of criminal conspiracy.
At that point, the commissioners decided the information called the credibility of the applicant into question. They unanimously voted to deny the project over public safety concerns.
“It may be found these people are not guilty … but it doesn’t look that way at this point,” said Commissioner Phil Henderson in a meeting Wednesday. “I’m not inclined to approve this application because of these partnerships.”
The applicant, Weisheit, has worked with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to remove Sam Onat from the store’s license.
In a letter to the commission, Weisheit and his partner, Elizabeth Weisheit, said they didn’t expect his partner to be “caught up in a potentially sordid affair,” but urged commissioners to still consider the application due to the fact neither man has been convicted.
“We completely understand the concern about the ‘La Pine incident,’ as we are alarmed ourselves, to say the least,” the Weisheits wrote. “However, we also believe that people in this country are innocent until proven guilty, and our partners have not yet had a chance to defend themselves. As such, we feel any judgment based on their arrests and charges alone are premature, unfair, and un-American.”
While they understand why the commission would be concerned about the alleged incidents of their partners, in their letter they argue the appeal process is supposed to be about whether the proposed development follows land use code, not “a criminal trial of our partners, or a debate of the pros and cons of various solvents.”
The applicants have the choice to appeal the decision.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org