Deschutes County Commissioners last week confirmed that they will eventually lift the temporary ban on cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of the county. After receiving recommendations from the county Planning Commission, Marijuana Advisory Committee, and the public, the commissioners have concluded what even they described as lengthy deliberations and have begun the process of adopting regulations to address impacts associated with the growing and processing of cannabis.
In 2014, 52 percent of Deschutes County residents voted to legalize and regulate cannabis businesses in Oregon under Measure 91. The expansive "Exclusive Farm Use" zones of rural Deschutes County make it an obvious place for growing and processing a top-selling agricultural crop such as cannabis. But in 2015, Democrats in the Oregon Legislature gave in to Republican requests for changes to Measure 91 and enacted a law allowing local governments to ban cannabis businesses under certain circumstances.
Soon after, Deschutes County Commissioners enacted a temporary ban on cannabis businesses, saying they needed more time to create regulations in addition to those already imposed by the statewide cannabis regulatory agency, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Now, nearly two years after the legalization vote, the county regulations will closely resemble restrictions already drafted and enacted by other local governments around Oregon.
The commissioners received numerous public comments from a vocal minority of county residents, convinced that cannabis businesses would ruin their rural lifestyle. They urged commissioners to send the issue to voters again or to simply ignore the 2014 vote and enact a permanent ban on cannabis businesses.
Many other county residents, including individuals and businesses who made substantial investments in land and equipment in Deschutes County after the 2014 vote, argued that the county should move forward with regulations. That made the issue a politically sensitive one for the elected commissioners.
There are currently approximately 1,500 licensed medical marijuana grow operations in the county, and no doubt many will seek licensure in the recreational market. Several businesses whose plans for operations in the county have been on hold now say they will again begin moving forward in anticipation of the end of the ban.
If the regulatory process moves forward as promised by the commissioners, the regulations will likely not take effect until September, meaning that another growing season will be lost for would-be cannabis businesses in the county, giving competitors elsewhere in the state a two-year head start.