Deschutes County enacts temporary pot business ban
By Steve Holmes
While Bend has been working on its regulations for cannabis businesses, so has Deschutes County. The Deschutes County Planning Commission has proposed regulations, and County Commissioners were scheduled to decide on the proposed regulations at their Dec. 21 meeting. The regulations would apply to businesses in the unincorporated areas of Deschutes County. Instead, the Commission kicked the can further down the road by voting unanimously to impose a temporary ban on marijuana businesses in the county, to be revisited in 90 days.
Several business owners have voiced their concern about two important restrictions on cannabis growing in the county. The first restricts cannabis growing to the exclusive farm use zone and, with a conditional use permit, the rural industrial zone. This leaves out some key rural zones where cannabis growing would seem to be compatible with the existing land uses, such as agricultural multiple use zones.
The second restriction would require growers to have at least 20 acres of land. Jeremy Kwit, owner of the Bloom Well dispensary in Bend, explains that his business relies on small-scale, family-owned farms to provide the cannabis he sells. Many of those growers are in the county, and many of those growers would be prohibited from growing for the recreational cannabis market.
Rural landowners are also concerned about the potential impact of cannabis grow operations. Some county residents are advocating for a moratorium on cannabis businesses until a vote on the issue. The commission has indicated its desire to regulate, rather than ban, cannabis businesses, so that outcome appears unlikely.
A big concern for people living near rural farmland appears to be the odor of cannabis. But this is not a new issue for Oregon, which has a strong "right to farm" law that says, essentially, if you move to a farming area you can expect all of the smells and noises that come along with farming and you cannot complain about them as a nuisance. Cannabis growing seems to fit within the definition of "farming," so those residents may have a difficult time convincing commissioners to tightly regulate odors from cannabis grow operations, and those restrictions may not hold up in Oregon courts.
There are, of course, other potential impacts of cannabis growing operations. And growing operations will be the vast majority of cannabis businesses located in the county, as there are very few areas that are zoned to allow retail cannabis sales.
Opponents of cannabis businesses have attempted to portray these businesses as "vast industrial developments." But when looking closely at the process of growing cannabis and preparing it for sale or processing into a product, cannabis growing looks very similar to growing fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. After all, they are all commercial plant-growing operations. And given the agricultural character of unincorporated Deschutes County, the commissioners should be able to craft regulations that treat cannabis growing like the agricultural activity it is.
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