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County bans dispensaries

Wasco County’s board of commissioners voted unanimously April 29 to pass a one-year moratorium on marijuana dispensaries — just ahead of the May 1 deadline.

Unlike most regular board sessions, the discussion on the moratorium took place in the evening at the Wasco County Courthouse as part of a conscious decision, Commissioner Rod Runyon said, to ensure that interested members of the public had ample opportunity to participate.

Issued in 2014, Senate Bill 1531 allows cities and counties to enact one-year moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries so long as the respective governmental bodies are able to adopt them before May 1.

Aside from regulations already built into the law which pertain to things like where dispensaries can legally be located and what security measures patrons must pass in order to make purchases, there’s “not really a lot else to go on,” according to county Administrative Officer Tyler Stone.

“It’s my understanding that in Wasco County, we don’t currently have any explicit regulations for dispensaries of this type,” he said, “and that we don’t really have anything other than building codes and normal land use rules to respond to these types of applications.”

Planning Director John Roberts confirmed this information, adding, “Senate Bill 1531 allows counties to enact a moratorium for one year and gives governments the time they need to adopt regulations or local rules for marijuana dispensaries, which is an incredibly time consuming process that would take many months to get through on the planning side of things.”

Due to the pressure of the impending May 1 deadline, the county had to inject an emergency clause into their ruling on the dispensary in order to successfully adopt the moratorium in time.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with other planning directors and the whole thing is really confusing,” Roberts said. “There are so many layers to this issue. Like, how can you sell something that is not recognized by the Department of Agriculture as an agricultural crop? The new laws are just a mess and are written with a focus on urban areas. Seeing as Wasco County already has a very limited supply of old commercial and industrial lands, that just makes it even harder.”

In a top-10 list of the dispensary bill’s deficiencies, Roberts listed the fact that “only four employees across the state are overseeing the entire process” and that things like manufacturers, packaging, marketing, labeling and local control issues are all still “largely unregulated.”

Commissioner Rod Runyon said he was in favor of the one-year moratorium because dispensaries are “like a tsunami coming at us one way or another.”

“I sympathize with the people currently struggling with maladies that are very serious,” he said, “but it’s just out of control — there are no rules and this is the only tool we have to slow it down and give us as a county time to get things in order.”

YouthThink Coordinator Debby Jones also spoke in favor of the moratorium.

“What the state is seeing is a tax opportunity,” she said. “Whether we like it or not, it’s coming and we want to do everything we can to work with organizations that want to keep it out of kids’ hands. My hope is that with the moratorium, we will have the opportunity to get together with some of our people and make sure we’re looking at what’s happening with our kids and be sure we address the question of what’s going to happen with our children when it does.”

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