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Is the county applying a morality test to land-use decisions?

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While analyzing Mckenzie Canyon Farms' site plan for a proposed marijuana production and processing facility in northern Deschutes County on May 1, Commissioner Patti Adair's face reflected great concern. The specific discussion was with regard to noise created by the (county-mandated) 16 odor control fans constructed at the site.

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"Which way is the wind blowing there?" asked Adair, seemingly unaware of the typically unpredictable nature of wind.

"I'm not sure about this one," Chair Phil Henderson said pensively, referring to an engineer's report on the devices' noise output. "Sixteen fans is a lot."

Pushed along mainly by the skepticisms of Henderson and Adair, the Board spent 10 to 20 minutes analyzing the map, and scrutinizing an expert's analysis of the noise output of the specific machines. They were dangerously close to approving an application for yet another marijuana grow. Try as they might to pin down a potentially fatal flaw, they were close to coming up empty.

Their renewed vigor with respect to stopping the evils of the devil's lettuce was motivated in no small part by the discussions earlier in the meeting. Representatives from Deschutes County Health Services provided testimony regarding addiction, treatment and prevention with respect to marijuana use in the County.

Dr. Will Berry and Karen Tomminga, representing Deschutes County's Behavioral Health department, which deals with individual addiction and recovery issues, testified about their experience with the effects of marijuana on patients. Berry indicated concerns with increased anxiety among marijuana users, along with potential exacerbation of symptoms related to psychosis for those patients with pre-existing risk factors for schizophrenia and other similar mental illnesses. Tomminga indicated that, while alcohol is still the number one cause for treatment at Deschutes County Behavior Health, marijuana is number two, with roughly 25 percent of patients citing marijuana as the reason for admission to treatment.

Adair was not satisfied with this lukewarm indictment of marijuana.

"According to my research from the book 'Tell your Children,'" Adair said, "they actually said there was a violence component to the numbers if you looked at the state where marijuana is legalized, that there is more violence in the users."

"I have not seen that," replied Tomminga flatly.

Adair kept pressing: "The [authors of the book) studied numbers for California, Alaska, Oregon... the facts from 'Tell Your Children' is that it is really harmful to the developing brain."

"I agree with that," Tomminga replied.

Adair was citing the book "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence," written by Alex Berenson. The book has been widely maligned by Ivy League-educated medical doctors and other mental health experts as an exercise in cherry-picking data to reinforce a previously held view that marijuana causes psychosis, which causes violence. In fact, "Tell Your Children" was the original working title for the 1936 film "Reefer Madness," legendary for its ridiculous depiction of weed-crazed murderers wreaking havoc. Berenson's book is attempting to unearth this debunked trope.

Adair, feeling encouraged by Tomminga's assent about marijuana being problematic for minors, spiked the football. "What is it, we have 8 million people getting stoned on a daily basis in this country? Though they're not addicted?"

Berry attempted to politely push back.

"In my opinion the current state of the research linking marijuana use with violence ... is to be decided," he said. "It's multi-factorial." Berry further specified that psychosis, including schizophrenia, rarely results in violent actions by the afflicted, and in fact a person suffering from psychosis is far more likely to be a victim of violence. Reefer Madness Board members, having failed to establish that potheads tend to chop up family members and stab puppies, then attempted to outflank the research by arguing the reverse.

"It's always been true since I was in high school," Henderson said, "that the effects [of marijuana] were ... demotivating and deincentivizing [sic] kids." Berry replied that it was ultimately up to parents to monitor their own children.

As for the fate of Mckenzie Canyon Farms, it may come down to the sins of a father. One of the co-investors in the grow has a father who may face charges for an alleged illegal marijuana grow near La Pine. Henderson made it clear he felt any connection with people facing "investigation for a major crime" would compel him to vote "no" on the basis of "health, safety overall land-use issue."

Tony DeBone, the last reasonable commissioner with respect to marijuana grows, pushed back. "That is not the province of this board," he said. Deliberations on this application were scheduled to continue until May 8.

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