OR: County Board Hears Divergent Testimony On Marijuana

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The polarized debate over marijuana business rules moved up from an appointed planning panel to the Hood River County Board of Commissioners at a hearing Monday.

Discussion was rooted in a set of time, place and manner (TPM) restrictions on the cannabis industry outside of the county’s two incorporated cities: Hood River and Cascade Locks.

Public opinion from 18 speakers at Monday night’s hearing branched across a wide ideological spectrum, with some county residents calling for more lenient rules on marijuana production while others favored ratcheting up controls over the industry.

The recommended ordinance keeps cannabis growing operations in farm and forest zones, processing in exclusive farm use and industrial zones, and retail outlets (dispensaries) in commercial zones.

Planning staff proposed the rules, then Planning Commission retooled them after a hearing earlier this summer.

John Roberts, Hood River County Planning Director, explained that commercial areas available for potential marijuana dispensaries are limited, but they exist. Some spots include business districts in Odell and Parkdale.

“There’s not a lot of retail opportunities outside the (Hood River) urban growth boundary, but there are some,” Roberts said.

There are five licensed marijuana dispensaries in Hood River and none in Cascade Locks, where municipal TPM restrictions have so far barred any dispensaries from setting up shop.

More central to the county’s rulemaking process is growing operations.

Marijuana became legal throughout much of Oregon during July 2015, ushered in by Voter Measure 91. Hood River County voters supported the decision by roughly 57 percent.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission has since developed baseline land use rules for marijuana businesses across the state, but counties also have authority to put in more stringent TPM restrictions – that’s what Hood River County has taken steps to implement.

“What we’re putting out there is very benign,” Roberts said of the proposed ordinance, compared to more stringent requirements in similar Oregon counties like neighboring Wasco.

Zoning for growing operations proved most controversial, namely the rural residential category.

Belinda Ballah, Hood River County Prevention Department Director, highlighted public health concerns associated with the cannabis industry and advocated for more restrictive rules.

“We know the more that marijuana is marketed, advertised … normalized the more likely teens will be to use,” Ballah said.

She suggested prohibiting the businesses on rural residential properties and a 1,500-foot-setback from schools and other public gathering places.

Luz Oropeza and Juan Reyes with the Odell Hispanic Coalition also requested higher scrutiny over cannabis businesses due to worries concerning youth access.

On the opposite side, Frank Velasco, a representative of Heady Farms – an outdoor marijuana growing operation in the Mount Hood community – urged the county to allow companies like his to keep functioning on rural residential properties.

“There’s no evidence these (existing OLCC) rules aren’t efficient and I don’t understand why Hood River County wants to enforce additional restrictions. All I’ve heard tonight is the (Oregon) counties have imposed similar restrictions, but no real proof or reasons as to how this is going to help our community,” he said.

Teunis Wyers, a Hood River attorney, spoke out against several legal particulars in the ordinance and cited the local voter approval toward marijuana.

“The voters passed a law that cannabis is legal, and the state says it’s a crop for farm use. So why does the county then need to say it’s a different crop?” Wyers said.

Hood River County Sheriff Matt English weighed in near the end of the hearing, suggesting commissioners take a “conservative” approach to the ordinance.

English said his department has continued to see black market marijuana incidents despite the recent legalization, such as a drug deal related shooting near Cascade Locks in July.

“(Marijuana) is highly sought after – it’s a controlled substance. So having some controls in place is prudent,” English said.

“I fully support the (marijuana) businesses, but I think we need to have some real protections in place and it’s not the businesses per se that I’m worried about, it’s about the protection for the businesses.”

After testimony closed, commissioners briefly discussed the marijuana rules before deciding to table their decision until their next session, slated for Sept. 12.

“You all heard the polar ends of the spectrum that you get on issues like this, and so at the end of the day, don’t expect everything you want. It’s going to be a blend of some of those things,” Commissioner Les Perkins said regarding the commissioners’ stance so far.

In other business, the board also decided to hold a third short-term rental meeting on Oct. 17.

“I think STRs are much more time sensitive. We’ve been at STRs for eight years – let’s close the STR issue out. We’ve been at the marijuana debate for two,” Commissioner Maui Meyer said.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: County Board Hears Divergent Testimony On Marijuana
Author: Patrick Mulvihill
Contact: 541-386-1234
Photo Credit: Patrick Mulvihill
Website: Hood River News