Deschutes is the latest Oregon county to consider “opting out” of marijuana businesses.
This spring, state lawmakers passed a bill that gives cities and counties the option to ban pot grows, processors, wholesalers and retailers under certain conditions.
Local governments can only pass a permanent ban if 55 percent or more residents voted against legalizing recreational marijuana. In Deschutes County, Measure 91 passed by 52 percent, so restrictions on pot businesses would go on the November 2016 ballot.
If counties do not opt out, commercial marijuana grows will be regulated like any other farm crop.
So far, four Oregon counties and eight cities have enacted bans. Several are in eastern Oregon, where Measure 91 — the measure to legalize recreational pot — failed by a large percentage.
Even if a county or city decides to opt out, people will still be able to grow and use their own marijuana. They just might not be able to buy it, or farm pot for commercial sale within county limits.
On Wednesday, Deschutes County held two packed, public hearings on the issue.
Some people who voted against 91 asked the county to opt out because they’re broadly opposed to marijuana legalization.
“I don’t want any pot anywhere,” said Tumalo resident Richard Rody. “It’s against federal law.”
A few residents expressed concerns about the odor, light pollution and crime that could be associated with pot grows. But dispensary owners talked about the economic opportunities of the marijuana industry.
“The big issue, I think, is the tax revenue,” said Denise Poboisk, a resident of unincorporated Deschutes County . “If we opt out, we get none of it. And our schools need it. I just can’t see the sense in not getting the tax revenue.”
The state Legislature has set the base tax rate for recreational marijuana at 17 percent.
Ralph Dilzer, who owns a medical marijuana farm and a grow facility near Alfalfa, said he’s already invested a lot of money in to expand into the recreational market.
“We’d have to shut down,” said Dilzer. “It would be the same if a hay farmer lost his farm. You put your heart and soul into it, you put your life savings into it. You’re trying to live the American dream and where you want to grow something from the ground up and make a successful business out of it. I’d be devastated.”
“I think they need to look at where they’re allowable to grow as a business” said Kay Whitson Bondurant, who lives in Deschutes County in area zoned rural residential.
She said there’s a grow operation in her cul-de-sac. It’s legal, as far as she knows, but she said she’d like the county to require neighbor and community input about marijuana sites.
“I just don’t think our area is the place for it,” Whitson Bondurant said. “I think that the moratorium that they’re talking about doing is a great idea. That would give us about a year to determine how we want to proceed.”
County commissioners will meet again Monday to discuss options. Commissioners won’t likely decide whether to ban marijuana businesses yet. They may form a committee with community members to take a closer look the issue. However, even if county commissioners were to ban marijuana sales and operations, that ban would still need to go before voters in November 2016.