After more than a year of meetings, public hearings and more than a little controversy, the Deschutes County Commission approved new rules for recreational marijuana in rural parts of the county.
On Wednesday morning, all three commissioners signed off on amendments to the county’s existing code for recreational marijuana growers, which includes more stringent restrictions on where marijuana can be grown and how those growers are regulated. The new rules will go into effect Nov. 23.
During the meeting, commissioners described the amendments as a logical extension of the original set of rules, enacted in 2016, that closes some gaps in how the newly legal industry is regulated.
“I think we’ve tried to shape a compromise,” said Commissioner Phil Henderson during the meeting.
Liz Dickson, a land use lawyer who has focused on cannabis over the last several years, praised the commission, and Henderson in particular, for adopting rules that fit the county’s unique land use pattern.
“It’s not easy to crack open (county) code and make it better,” Dickson said.
However, members of Deschutes County’s cannabis industry felt blindsided by the new rules and expressed concern that the restrictions could drive growers to the black market.
“They’re just going to end up driving out legitimate businesses,” said Jennifer Clifton, founder of Bend-based Clifton Cannabis Law and president of the local advocacy group Celebrate Cannabis.
Deschutes County finalized its first round of rules for marijuana production in the fall of 2016, creating a regulatory framework in which growers are required to meet a series of restrictions around issues such as odor, noise and lighting before receiving approval. The county began looking to update those regulations last fall, meeting with agencies that oversee various aspects of the state’s marijuana program, along with groups of local advocates and opponents.
The new rules prohibit marijuana production on multi-use agriculture lots, which tend to be smaller than those zoned exclusively for farm use but larger than those zoned for rural residences, and mandate a quarter-mile buffer zone from schools, parks and other marijuana operations, among other uses.
The rules had changed somewhat since the commission held a public hearing in August.
Commissioner Tony DeBone said the commission originally proposed rules that were more restrictive than the ones they approved Wednesday. The commission removed requirements requiring growers to install meters to track their water use, and reduced the required distance from public land, parks and other uses.
Tanya Saltzman, associate planner for Deschutes County, added that the adopted rules reduce the acreage in the county available for marijuana cultivation by about 14 percent, compared to 76 percent under the rules as they were proposed in August.
The new rules also require that applicants submit a plan for controlling odors that is prepared and approved by a licensed mechanical engineer, and prevent sustained ambient noise from being audible beyond the property lines.
Clifton said Celebrate Cannabis was already concerned that the previous rules were too restrictive, and this set of rules only makes matters worse. She said a report prepared by county staff earlier this year demonstrated that the recreational industry has largely followed the rules, but said additional rules could incentivize potential recreational growers to look to sell on the black market instead.
However, Dickson said threats from unhappy growers shouldn’t dictate the commissioners’ approach.
“I don’t think that’s a good way to enact legislation,” she said.
Saltzman said applications must be finalized by the end of the day on Nov. 21 to be considered under the old rules, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyone wishing to appeal the new rules must do so within 21 days.
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