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County Board vs. Marijuana: Axes are grinding 

Rookie Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair, sworn in last month, got to take her first crack at blocking a marijuana grow land-use permit application during deliberations in a business meeting Jan. 30, alongside Board Chair Phil Henderson. (Commissioner Tony DeBone was not present for the deliberations.)

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The applicants, who are proposing a grow off of Dodds Road in east Deschutes County, submitted their application before Adair was a county commissioner. Adair was a commissioner-elect, but not yet sworn in during the Dec. 18 appeals hearing on this farm, where neighbors objected to the application for reasons including noise, odor and location. Adair was in the audience during the Dec. 18 hearing, however, and Henderson raised no objections against having her deliberate on the application.

Her first on-the-record remarks were rather inauspicious. She implied the applicants were untruthful about their application by claiming that they planned to use 30,000 gallons of water annually (they had apparently listed a higher number in the written application). This observation was hardly material, and had nothing to do with language in the Deschutes County Code, which merely requires applicants to provide documentation proving that a water provider can, and will, serve their farm.

"You want people, when they're applying for a marijuana grow, to be truthful," she said, referring to the disparity in water volume.

This sort of complaint about cannabis grow applications is more commonly heard during citizen testimony by folks who have little (or zero) knowledge of the Deschutes County Code. Anything from general concern about children smoking pot, to worries about "cartel" activity, to gripes about "riff raff" are frequently brought before the Board, placated, and usually dismissed as irrelevant.

Now, one of these citizen laypeople is on the Board. Even Henderson, who has never met a marijuana application he couldn't deny, pushed back on Adair's claim that the water-volume issue was a "modification," which would trigger a requirement that the change be submitted in writing during the record period.

Adair, a climate-change denier who once said the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 made the weather nicer in Seattle, also weighed in on the applicant's ionization device. Adair boldly asserted that these types of odor-control devices would cause "health complications," and claimed that they "aren't effective" in eliminating odor. She didn't verbally identify her source for such claims, which would directly contradict the licensed Oregon mechanical engineer's opinion included with the application. County counsel strongly encouraged the Board not to submit any new "scientific" reports for the record at such a late juncture. Adair said her source article was published in 2015.

Ultimately, Commissioners Adair and Henderson didn't deny the application based on water usage or odor control. The deciding issue had to do with the grow's proximity to a "youth activity center." Code language prohibits marijuana businesses from existing within 1,000 feet of schools, licensed day cares, and any "youth activity centers," a term not defined in the code. A previous application that was within 1,000 feet of an unlicensed 4H activity center had been approved when Commissioner DeBone and former Commissioner Tammy Baney overruled Henderson's objection to the grow.

In this case, the proposed grow would be near a residence where the owner's children are home-schooled, and where the parents led "equestrian activities." Adair noted that children were present in photos on their website, all of them on horses, wearing helmets, the latter fact somehow offered to justify the for-profit business's official nature.

"They are seriously engaged in working with the youth of Deschutes County," said Adair.

Henderson attempted to literally define a "youth activity center" during deliberations as "a place where youth are active, and it's centered there." It's hard to imagine a glibber legal definition of a statutory term, made all the more galling when you realize Henderson actually has legal training.

Adair then suggested county staff visit the website where "you can see what they are offering the youth." Adair rattled off the URL: "Rhinestone Ranch dot com." (The actual website, which includes a fee schedule for horse-riding lessons, is rhinestoneranchbend.com.)

The applicants argued that the ranch has no permitting, and offers training for adults as well as children. Adair and Henderson brusquely dismissed these written counter-arguments by the applicant.

We don't know if DeBone, had he been present or phoned in, would've swayed Henderson or Adair to reconsider. What we can expect, however, is that every marijuana grow application from here on out may be tap-dancing around a pretty loose definition of "youth activity center."

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