“Regulating a new industry with a crop as complicated as marijuana is going to be an important challenge for a new county commissioner. On this issue, Adair needs to prove she will provide more thoughtful policy direction to earn voter support. Cook is already doing that.”

Bulletin Editorial Board, May 21, 2018

The citizens of Oregon and Deschutes County voted for legalization of recreational marijuana. Our zoning ordinances are the strictest in Oregon and, according to the county’s own reports, our enforcement is effective. Still, as might be expected for any new industry, there are people who believe the current county regulations go too far and those who think they are not strict enough.

Groups including the Deschutes County Farm Bureau have criticized the county for going beyond the “reasonable” regulations allowed by state law and fear the regulations may set a precedent for controls on other crops. Others claim the regulations don’t adequately address issues such as odors and water usage although the complaints are based primarily on medical marijuana production prior to the current regulations being put in place.

It’s important to recognize the current regulations have achieved at least a middle ground as they have not been challenged by an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals or the courts. Therefore, our county regulations and our ability to enforce Oregon’s strictest regulations on cannabis production remain in place.

If, however, the Board of Commissioners continues its current efforts to add additional restrictions, it may prompt an appeal to LUBA to overturn the county’s regulations or lobbying of the state legislature to amend the law. If this occurs, the result may be that Deschutes County has less ability to regulate cannabis, not more.

Legalized marijuana is new to Oregon and the ramp-up of regulation has not been without issues. Fortunately, the state is working to address those issues.

Their initiatives include:

  • The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the regulating body for marijuana, is increasing enforcement staff.
  • The OLCC has declared a moratorium on the processing of new applications for recreational cannabis licenses.
  • Tracking of larger medical licensees is being transitioned from the Oregon Health Authority to the OLCC’s robust seed-to-sale tracking system, which will allow more effective tracking of existing medical grows.

In addition, as with any new industry, there will be a shakeout as the industry evolves. The market is currently saturated, leading to a drop in prices and lower profits. Given market conditions, it’s reasonable to assume that many producers will exit the field in the future. That’s how free markets work.

Now is not the time to change our county code and zoning ordinances based upon limited, anecdotal evidence. We need to allow the industry to mature before we head down a path that may have unforeseen and negative impacts on our ability to monitor the development of the cannabis industry in our county.

In the interim, we should continue to target illegal grows and processing operations. They endanger the public, undermine legal businesses and deprive the county of tax revenue. I support efforts to rigorously pursue these operations and put them out of business. I favor devoting a portion of county marijuana tax revenue to fund additional police and code enforcement officers as a responsible use of those funds.

With appropriate regulations, the cannabis industry can be a responsible contributor to the county’s economic development. As your County Commissioner, I will work to achieve that end.

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