All legalization is not equal, as folks living in rural parts of Oregon are discovering. Before the end of the last session, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill granting significant local control over marijuana-related businesses, which means that some parts of the state may be off-limits to the budding industry.
The bill allows city and county governments whose residents voted down Measure 91 by 55 percent or more to opt-out of pot sales. Those municipalities with less opposition to the recreational marijuana measure will have to put the opt-out up for a vote of the people.
So far, on the west side of the Cascades, all of Douglas County, as well as the cities of Brownsville and Sandy, will put the question to voters. Over on the dry side, Nyssa, Vale, and Ontario have all opted out.
The Deschutes County Commission will hold public hearings Wednesday, Aug. 12 to discuss the possibility of putting an opt-out for unincorporated areas on the ballot in November. More than 50 percent of voters in the county approved Measure 91. Even if an opt-out measure passed, it would not apply to incorporated cities in the county, such as Bend and Redmond, and would not affect pre-existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
Opponents of the opt-out compromise argue that it weakens the measure voters in Oregon already approved and will deprive rural communities of positive economic impacts. State Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), who co-sponsored House Bill 3400, spoke to concerns about negative repercussions of opting out in an interview with the Argus Observer.
"Many people would argue that to have marijuana grows, dispensaries, and retail sales outlets operating in the open and subject to strict licensing and requirements including inspections and reporting would be better than the bootlegging operations that might continue in opt-out communities," he said.
Note: After we went to press, Island City, Umatilla County, Harney County, and Malheur County submitted opt-out paperwork.