OR: Changes Proposed For Deschutes County’s Marijuana Rules

Photo Credit: Ricardo Arduengo

After nearly nine months of gathering information and soliciting feedback about Deschutes County’s marijuana regulations, the county’s planning staff has proposed a list of changes.

On Wednesday, planners from the county’s community development department walked the Deschutes County Commission through suggested new rules about where in the county marijuana can be grown, and how growers should mitigate odor and noise impacts from growing and processing operations.

Suggestions included prohibiting future marijuana applications on rural lots that can be used for a variety of purposes, clarifying and strengthening standards around odor and noise and mandating that grow sites be at least a half-mile from federal lands, or land managed by local governments that have opted out of marijuana production. The proposed rules also clarify that Deschutes County can set legal time, place and manner rules around marijuana, despite Oregon’s right-to-farm rules.

The proposed rules will go through several rounds of review, including a public hearing, but developing tangible changes to regulating marijuana represents a significant step forward in the county’s ongoing effort to tweak its approach to the crop.

“We felt like it was important to put (the changes) in standard code language,” said Peter Gutowsky, planning manager for Deschutes County.

The county commission began reviewing Deschutes County’s rules around marijuana production and processing last fall, about a year after initially adopting them.

During a series of preliminary meetings about potential changes, county commissioners expressed interest in better regulating existing growing operations, and keeping rural residents from being overwhelmed by the newly legal industry.

“For the legalized industry, everybody needs to be operating under the same laws,” said commissioner Tammy Baney.

Gutowsky said planning staff drafted the proposed changes based on the commission’s comments during prior meetings, rather than through specific rules suggested by the board.

One suggested change would block future marijuana production and processing on lots that are part of the county’s multi-use agriculture zone, where lots tend to be smaller than those used exclusively for farming but larger than those for rural residential use, Gutowsky said.

Gutowsky said the multi-use zone has seen only three applications so far and planning staff concluded that it may not be a good fit for the zone.

“The board was just questioning whether that was an applicable zone for marijuana production,” Gutowsky said.

He added that the proposed half-mile separation for future marijuana operations included public areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as areas within Redmond’s urban reserve boundaries. While Redmond does not allow marijuana-related businesses within its city limits, Gutowsky said the proposal was more about acknowledging that the land, set aside by the city for future expansion, might not be a good fit for rural marijuana facilities.

“I think it’s just recognizing that, as Redmond urbanizes, we want to minimize incompatible uses,” he said.

Commissioner Phil Henderson said he liked most of the suggestions, though he added he’d like to see rules requiring more neighbors to be notified when a marijuana growing operation is proposed in their area, and a longer amount of time to appeal any decisions. Baney said she liked aspects of the plan, but wants the public to weigh in on the proposal.

“There are just pieces in here that I’m not certain are the right direction to go,” she said.

Any public hearing on the proposed rules likely wouldn’t take place until August, given scheduling challenges during the summer. An additional work session with a more refined set of suggestions will be scheduled for late June or early July.