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Legislating Morality Through Land Use 

County Commission witnesses a festering fissure

After five months of watching his co-Commissioners scour all marijuana land-use and site-plan applications for potential frailties, Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone seems to have had enough. During a June 5 deliberation, the Commission was discussing an appeal of a previously-approved application for a marijuana dispensary in Tumalo. DeBone all but scolded Commissioners Phil Henderson and Patti Adair for their clear anti-marijuana agenda.

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"If it's the intention of the two other commissioners to look for reason to deny [this application], I'm not gonna have much more to say. I don't know that I can participate."

DeBone's comment left Henderson and Adair in shocked silence for several seconds, before DeBone continued. "It's pretty black and white. This is land use. This is a reasonable application. It's been approved. If there's something that sticks out that doesn't jive with the community—not moral objections of marijuana—but the community, and land use, that's different than looking for any little thing."

The "moral objection" line seemed to lodge itself in Henderson's craw. Henderson even referenced a prior Source Weekly article that he says accused the Board of motivating their land-use decisions with morality judgments.

"I take objection to that," Henderson said. "This isn't a morality issue to me." Henderson went on to insist that his scrutiny of applications is merely an effort to make sure people are following the rules closely.

Prior to this kerfuffle, DeBone and Henderson had engaged in a spirited back-and-forth in discussing whether the dispensary should be allowed to deliver marijuana products outside of its "surrounding area" in the Tumalo Commercial District. A rather vague Deschutes County Code has little to say about what "surrounding area" means, which Henderson interpreted to mean "something less than the county as a whole."

Debone demurred: "If I was going to deliver pressure treated-wooden poles, I wouldn't want to be told I can't deliver more than 5 or 10 miles to a location, if I have a customer willing to pay," he said. DeBone's analogy seemed a clear attempt to appeal to Henderson's background in home construction.

Later, Henderson weighed in against the idea of allowing a "delivery" use for the retail store and alleged that the delivery aspect of the dispensary's service shouldn't be considered as merely an ancillary activity to the "retail" usage the applicants were seeking. (The Oregon Liquor Control Commission allows for retail applicants to endorse their license with delivery privileges under the "retail" umbrella.)

It was the delivery discussion that sparked DeBone's showstopping remark about the Commission's apparent bias against marijuana.

"We're not very clear when we make these decisions," DeBone added. "We're going to have multiple layers of land-use decisions, and minute little variations and looking for reasons to deny. Maybe there's a bigger picture here about marijuana and the rural county."

"There is," said Henderson, apparently abandoning his case that he's not motivated by a morality position.

Adair, also seemingly in a hurry to confirm DeBone's suspicion, dove straight in: "Actually, the vote of the people in the rural county was not for it. The rural county are the ones having the impact from it."

"Oh yeah, I live in the rural county and I've got it in my backyard," DeBone shot back. "I've been dealing with this for five years."

Associate Planner Matthew Martin eventually spoke up, in a tone not unlike a child walking in on parents fighting. "If I may ... I did not hear a resolution on the delivery issue."

"I think we're kind of on hold about that," Henderson said.

Ultimately, the Board, in a 2-1 decision, deemed the application denied based on an access easement. Stay tuned for a Land Use Board of Appeals fight for this case, and many others, as the 2-1 schism on issues of marijuana becomes a recurring theme.

State to stop marijuana use from hindering a housing search

A bill signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown June 6 prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants with past marijuana convictions, or for medical marijuana use. Senate Bill 970 passed by a 17-9 vote, with Bend's Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) one of only two Senate Republicans to vote yes. The House passed the bill along party lines May 28.

Illinois: Another one bites the dust

Illinois has become the 10th state to legalize adult-use cannabis (and only the second to do so through the legislative process, not ballot initiative). That law will take effect in 2020. Combined with Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont, more than 92 million people now live in states where marijuana can be legally consumed for the pure joy of it.

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