Deschutes County imposes marijuana moratorium

(123RF)

Deschutes County commissioners voted Monday to send the question of whether recreational marijuana growing and processing operations should be allowed in the future to the November 2020 ballot.

The unanimous vote triggered an immediate moratorium on any new applications for grow sites or processing facilities in rural, unincorporated Deschutes County until the issue is decided by the voters next year.

Existing businesses, as well as any kind of marijuana operation in a city, will not be affected regardless of whether voters decide to opt out of approving marijuana business. Medical marijuana would also not be affected.

“Let’s back off and get clarity from the voters,” said Commissioner Tony DeBone

The recent conversation around opting out of permitting marijuana gained steam earlier this month in response to the concerns of residents who, through pages of public comment, said growers and processors are disturbing their way of life.

It could also help curb the number of land use appeals the county faces regarding rural marijuana operations, and is a chance to ask the residents of Deschutes County, who have been sharply divided on the topic of marijuana, once and for all whether they want more marijuana growing in rural areas.

The timing of the decision, however, is largely in response to an appeal filed with the state Land Use Board of Appeals from the Deschutes County Farm Bureau and representatives of the marijuana industry. The appeal claims a set of recently adopted rules that govern where and how marijuana production can occur in rural parts of the county are unconstitutional.

In a split vote, the commission on Monday also voted to repeal these contested amendments, choosing to seek clarity from the voters about the future of marijuana before spending time and money defending them in court.

DeBone, who voted to repeal the amendments with Commissioner Patti Adair, said he didn’t want there to be “moving parts” that could confuse voters before the election. If people vote to keep marijuana, the commission could always bring back the regulations, DeBone said.

“I don’t want the growers or farm bureau asking: Why are they doing that and asking for a vote of the people?” DeBone said.

But Commissioner Phil Henderson, who voted against repealing the amendments, reiterated his reservations with the approach, arguing that he felt it was the commission’s duty to keep its promise to rural residents that they would develop and update regulations for the marijuana industry.

“I think our requirements aren’t unreasonable. Odor control is not unreasonable. The setbacks aren’t unreasonable,” Henderson said. “So I’m not afraid to have (Land Use Board of Appeals) decide that, or have the Legislature attack that.”

The county will now have to alert the Oregon Liquor Control Commission about the vote. The original regulations controlling how and where marijuana can be grown that were passed in 2016 will remain in place.

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

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