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Marijuana amendments take back seat to demagoguery at county board meeting 

The Barnes-Sawyer room was jam-packed July 3, mostly with vocally anti-marijuana residents.

When rural residents in Deschutes County get a chance to holler into a microphone about the menacing presence of ganja farms staining their holy, pristine wilderness, community theater usually ensues.

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This was definitely the case last week, when the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners held a meeting to discuss amendments to marijuana rules that the County put forth last year. Those amendments had been appealed by the Deschutes Farm Bureau, Cascade Cannabis Association (formerly Celebrate Cannabis), and other marijuana industry leaders to the Land Use Board of Appeals. In response to the appeal, the County in February withdrew its proposed amendments and scheduled more testimony and more deliberations related to the rule changes.

That's why the Barnes-Sawyer room was jam-packed July 3, mostly with vocally anti-marijuana residents. No, not to discuss the achingly dull nuance of Deschutes County Code text amendments, but to continue their temper tantrum over the Deschutes County voters' 2016 decision to "opt-in" to marijuana agribusiness. Many carried red "Opt-Out" signs and at least one citizen testified while wearing a T-shirt with the picture of a pot-leaf surrounded by a red circle with a line through the center.

None seemed to realize—or care—that "opting out" of producing and processing marijuana is not on the table. What is on the table is the question of whether to repeal, edit or leave untouched controversial code amendments, which include, among other rules, banning new cannabis companies from locating within the Mixed Use Agriculture zone, increasing separation distances between marijuana businesses and tighter rules with regard to odor-mitigation.

Tumalo resident Sam Davis suggested the Board hire a full-time engineer to review the odor-control devices submitted by applicants. "As I drive by marijuana grows, I can smell marijuana, and each of these facilities is equipped with an odor-control device. And that shows they're not working."

Davis also lamented the rise of hemp as a common farm crop in the county.

"As I drive by these farms, I can't tell the difference between marijuana and hemp," he said. "Are we going to do anything to validate that they have hemp grown?"

This, of course, begs the question of whether or not Davis was smelling hemp rather than marijuana. Hemp is part of the cannabis species, and is regulated at the state level by the Department of Agriculture as a farm crop that cannot be regulated by the Board of Commissioners.

Mike Hayes, a Bend marijuana dispensary owner, seized on this fact to make his point about the misconceptions regarding odor.

"There is no way you can say the odor from my [marijuana] farm is the problem," said Hayes, who included slides depicting the numerous registered outdoor hemp farms surrounding his small, indoor marijuana farm.

For most who testified, however, pragmatism gave way to emotion.

"The same people get violated at the mercy of a few people that are not neighbors," county resident Margot Barron said, referring to cannabis entrepreneurs. "They were never part of our community. They don't consider you Commissioners like we do."

Hunter Neubauer, co-owner and operator of Oregrown, took issue with the crowd's apparent besmirching of the personal character of industry players. "I have three kids with a fourth on the way," he said. "We're in the school system. ... I love this county."

Neubauer went on to warn the Board that tightening rules on marijuana production would do nothing to address their complaints. "The approach you guys are taking is not working," he said. "You have folks who bought farm property who don't want farms next to them. ... Hemp's not going anywhere, and neither is cannabis. The odor is going to be there."

"President Trump signed the Farm Bill," added Neubauer, who then addressed the gallery, "I'm guessing a majority of you guys also voted for him."

To be fair, Neubauer and his business partners recently agreed to a stipulated settlement with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to serve a potential 98-day suspension over violations of state rules.

Legal experts in the room, including some who petitioned to LUBA, were almost a footnote. Bend attorney Stephanie Marshall, who is among the petitioners appealing the county text amendments, explained that residents living in Exclusive Farm Use zones have, for better or for worse, accepted their fate.

"When someone builds a non-farm dwelling on the EFU zone," Marshall said, "they sign an acknowledgment that there will be farming processes around them, and they may be impacted by them."

"It's hard to be tactful considering what we have gone through," said Lindsey Pate, owner of Glass House Grown, a marijuana producer. "You're making it so bigger corporations can come in and buy licensing."

The Board will hold the record open for a few more weeks, and deliberations will begin in August.

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