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Prepping for Pot 

As legalization approaches, Bendites consider the implications

Were the legalization of weed a pregnancy, with its conception marked during the month before the election and its due date July 1, the day that pot is officially legal in Oregon, we'd be entering the third trimester. The nursery walls would be painted, the crib built, the cabinet filled with diapers and onesies.

But how is Bend preparing for the stork's pending delivery?

It depends where you look. Preparations range from proactive to pensive to practically unconcerned.

The City: Laissez-faire

Though Measure 91 did not create an allowance for cities to impose their own taxes on recreational marijuana, many municipalities passed taxing ordinances anyway. The hope being that the State Legislature will grandfather them in. In fact, according to the Oregonian, some 70 towns and cities—including Redmond, La Pine and Madras—passed a weed tax before election day and are now crossing their fingers that the state legislature will let them collect some 15 percent of marijuana revenues.

But Bend was not one of those cities—and may miss out on additional funding for its police department and schools if the state grandfathers in pre-election local taxes.

Under the structure laid out by Measure 91, an excise tax is to be paid at the grower level to the tune of $35 an ounce for flower, $10 an ounce for leaves, and $5 per immature plant. According to the voter's pamphlet, that's estimated to bring in anywhere from $17 million to $40 million annually. The bulk of those revenues (40 percent) will go to the Common School Fund. The remainder will go to Mental Health, Alcoholism and Drug Services (20 percent), State Police (15 percent), city enforcement of the measure (10 percent), county enforcement of the measure (10 percent) and the Oregon Health Authority For Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (5 percent).

Still, just because Bend City Council chose not to pursue a local pot tax doesn't mean the City has been ignoring legalization.

"The City has been aware of this upcoming change and discussing it for some time," says City Manager Eric King. He goes on to explain that city councilors and staff including attorneys, human resources, the planning department and Bend Police officials have been engaged in research and attended conferences on the subject.

Yet despite all this "education," City staff and Council have declined to take any specific actions and instead are taking a hands-off approach.

"There has been no Council direction to develop any regulations on marijuana," King says. "Bend's not working on establishing a marijuana tax or any type of ban. The Council has reiterated that the State has authority on this issue. OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] is the responsible agent."

King does say, though, that there are some areas that will require clarification, such as driving under the influence and zoning issues.

"The main concern the City has is that there is a lack of clarity about what constitutes impaired driving. There's no meter or blood test, so it'll have to be observed," he says, adding that there are currently a "handful" of police officers trained in recognizing when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana.

When it comes to land use, the City is waiting on the State Legislature to fill in some of the blanks in the ballot measure—specifically with regard to the zoning and density of commercial marijuana business. Once it does, staff will have a better idea of how to manage zoning and other issues related to the establishment of retail operations.

"At this time, medical marijuana establishments are treated like medical clinics, and allowed in commercial zones. State regulations require they have 1,000-foot buffers from schools," King explains. "We expect there will be similar regulations from the state for recreational marijuana establishments, and we can address their locations in our zoning code."

But, on the whole, he says he feels the City is on track, and prepared for the legalization of recreational pot, even though many cities in Oregon are pressuring the legislature for greater local control.

Tourism: Not Gonna Cultivate It!

Once retail shops start to pop up, and perhaps even sooner, Oregon will no doubt become an increasingly attractive destination for weed lovers. And Bend—with its already vibrant medicinal marijuana market, high density of reggae-loving snowboarders, and established craft beer scene—seems prime for weed tourism.

But if a Weed Walk or Pot Path are destined to follow in the footsteps of the popular Ale Trail, Visit Bend hasn't started drafting that. Instead, the tourism agency's Executive Director Doug La Placa is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It's difficult to predict what, if any, impact the legalization of recreational marijuana will have on Bend's tourism industry," La Placa explains. "My initial thought is that there are other cities in Oregon that are much better positioned to capitalize on the potential of weed tourism."

Bend, he says, already has "dozens of other compelling reasons to visit"—such as the craft beer culture and strong summer and winter sports scenes. And while tourism agencies don't typically turn away potential visitors, La Placa posits that weed tourism is too risky.

"I don't think the inevitable controversy that would erupt over a publicly-funded marijuana tourism marketing campaign is worth the likely negligible economic upside for the industry," La Placa explains. "If another tourism marketing organization feels differently, they can cultivate the opportunity. Visit Bend isn't going to touch it."

He says he recognizes that marijuana tourism can serve as a source of economic stimulus, particularly for cities without another tourist attraction. For Bend, however, La Placa says it's not the city's best bet.

"At this point, we have no plans to promote Bend as a recreational marijuana destination," La Placa affirms. "We don't have any moral or ethical problem with it, we just don't see it as a leading competitive advantage for Bend's tourism industry."

Grow Shops: Ready for business

Bend has no shortage of garden centers, indoor grow shops and hydroponic outfitters. And while they are typically discreet about the extent to which their customers may be growing pot, as opposed to heirloom tomatoes, it's no secret that these shops have what the small-scale grower needs.

"Definitely a large percentage—possibly 80 percent or more—of our business is related to marijuana growing, but most people are pretty quiet about what they are growing," says Corey Spurlock with Green Leaf Garden Center

He adds that while Green Leaf doesn't current provide specific advice on growing marijuana—after all, many of the shop's products could be used to grow garden veggies, flowers, or indoor houseplants—he sees that changing with the legalization of recreational marijuana.

"I see our business growing substantially with the upcoming change in laws. We are already getting calls and questions from people wanting to buy equipment they will need to get started with the allowed four plants," Spurlock says. "While we do have some larger commercial customers, the majority of our business is from smaller, personal sized gardens by people that are growing presumably for themselves and/or their OMMP [Oregon Medical Marijuana Program] card holders."

To cater to those individuals interested in growing for personal recreational use, Green Leaf has already started advertising a starter kit of sorts, with everything a new grower would need to get growing—including a small grow tent, ballast, light, ventilation, timer, and environmental controller.

In addition to bundling supplies, Spurlock says Green Leaf plans to offer classes for folks just getting started.

"We will be planning these types of activities in the future as needed, depending on the influx of new growers," he says. "Our staff is very educated on plant growth in general and the basics apply to all plants, not just marijuana."

While Spurlock expects that more grow shops will emerge to take advantage of this growing industry, he says he welcomes competition and hopes that legalization will help smaller local businesses thrive.

"Personally, the biggest challenge that I foresee is the stigma that marijuana is a bad evil drug—the reefer madness mentality.  That and the fear of it still being federally illegal," Spurlock says. "As far as opportunities, I think the sky is the limit. It is the fastest growing industry in the United States right now."

And while he says he's not much of a pot-smoker himself, he hopes that legalization will inspire a broader conversation on not only the medicinal, but also the economic benefits of marijuana.

"I'd like people to have an open mind regarding the future of marijuana," he says.

Labs: Cannibis Chemistry

Whether recreational marijuana stokes the fire of Bend's tourism industry, it's likely to turn up the Bunsen burner on emerging cannabis testing labs, like Bend-based CannAlytical Research.

The local lab currently tests cannabis and its derivatives for potency, strain and the presence of undesirable elements such as microbes, pesticides, and residual solvent. These testing services are required under Oregon's medical marijuana law, and it's expected that the State Legislature will enact similar testing requirements for recreational pot.

"If recreational cannabis is required to be tested, and we certainly believe it should, then yes, of course, we expect an increase in business," says Carlos Cummings, CannAlytical Research's owner. "We also expect many new entries to this burgeoning market, including new labs."

In anticipation of increasing demand for marijuana testing services, CannAlytical Research is increasing its staff and upgrading its laboratory.

"We have hired a scientist, we're currently interviewing analytical chemists, and we have a new HPLC [high performance liquid chromatography], to better and more efficiently analyze and research cannabis in our lab," Cummings says.

That said, Cummings expects only a slight bump in business on July 1, anticipating that the real action will take place sometime in 2016.

"It will take the OLCC and the State quite a bit longer to write the laws that will govern recreational cannabis and for the recreational market to become established," Cummings explains. "We do not expect a significant increase in testing until perhaps after recreational dispensaries are actually open."

Still, he is looking to the future now. He anticipates new labs opening up and the stricter regulation of the credentials of testing staff, such as requiring lab supervisors to hold advanced degrees in chemistry.

"The main challenge is controlling the burgeoning recreational market and protecting the established medical program," Cummings adds. "Legalization has so many potential benefits, I almost don't know where to begin; taxes for our community and social programs, awareness, education, research, and understanding of a miraculous plant, financial gain across our economy and classes, better soils, air, water, well being and health, and the cure for cancer, etc."

While the jury is still out on if and how medical and recreational establishments might interact with one another, he says he wants to be sure that recreational weed enhances rather than threatens medical marijuana.

"As cannabis regulation moves forward at the recreational level, the OMMP program should also be strengthened," he says. "Patients should have access to medicine-grade cannabis for their ailments and diseases."

Schools and Parents:

Let's talk about drugs

While much of the preparations for legal weed are focused on the business side of the equation, some are gearing up for a defensive effort aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of children.

In some ways, it's a continuation of the work already being done. The fact that weed will be legal for adults 21 and over isn't likely to change the core message from schools and drug awareness campaigners—that drug and alcohol use are illegal for minors and come with real risks.

"The District does not foresee significant changes in the educational content or approach to drug education based on the legalization of marijuana," explains incoming Bend-La Pine superintendent Shay Mikalson. "Currently, education focuses on the harmful effects of a number of drugs and substances, legal and illegal, from a health and wellness standpoint."

He points out that the curriculum currently covers the "harmful effects and dangers" of alcohol, which is, of course, legal for adults over 21. When students return to school post-legalization in the fall, however, marijuana will likely be highlighted.

"As marijuana becomes legalized, and access to it changes as edibles and other forms continue to grow in their accessibility, it is likely that teachers will seek to educate students on the harmful effects and dangers of this soon-to-be-legal drug," Mikalson explains.

But it's not just children that are being primed for increased weed education. At the OLCC's marijuana listening session in Bend, a number of attendees emphasized the importance of educating parents so they can help keep pot out of their kids' hands.

"Education is paramount, especially of parents," says Barbara Stoefen, who serves on the board of the Shared Future Coalition and speaks in local schools on preventing and responding to drug addiction. "Parents need to fully understand the risks that marijuana poses for their children, and that it is indeed addictive for some."

And while she believes that the drug education in local middle and high schools is adequate, she says it could go further toward providing youth with concrete tools to avoid drugs.

"We tell kids not to engage in certain activities and behaviors, but don't offer them the necessary tools. 'Just say no' doesn't work and is not a solution," Stoefen says. "Another coalition of which I'm a board member, the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, has a youth advisory committee that is putting the finishing touches on a video to teach drug refusal skills to teens. We are also in the early stages of developing a website exclusively for teens."

She says she hopes these projects will be up and running by the time school starts again in the fall. Another thing Stoefen, whose own daughter battled with addiction, would like to see is more resources for students who are experiencing addiction personally, or being impacted by the addiction of a family member.

"Drug abuse and addiction exists in more families than most people realize, and children raised in these homes are highly stressed and at greater risk for addiction themselves," she explains. "It would be incredible to have weekly support groups for at-risk students, providing an opportunity for them to develop coping skills."

Ultimately, Stoefen says she does not believe Bend is ready for legal weed, but has some ideas about how it could get there. While it's impossible to anticipate every possible outcome, she says, more time and resources could go into developing a solid, community- based plan.

"There is no question this new law will change Bend, and it will change Oregon. Are we ready? Oh my goodness, no. The logistics of implementing a new law like this, and the ripple effects, will be far reaching," Stoefen explains. "We as a city need to be vigilant about doing the best job possible with implementation. Much will be required of our City leaders and a task force could prove very helpful."

Note: We have edited this story to more accurately reflect the age at which marijuana will be legal for adults starting July 1. Though medical marijuana is legal for adults 18 and older, recreational marijuana will only be legal for those 21 and up.

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