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home : current news : current news March 17, 2018

2/20/2018 2:35:00 PM
Council investigates marijuana regulations
Opinions vary on marijuana in Sisters
During visitor communication at last week's Sisters City Council meeting, three citizens with connections to the marijuana industry offered suggestions to the Council regarding things to consider as they study possible regulation of marijuana in Sisters. Two people spoke in opposition.

Dr. Gale Hayes Davis, whose sons own Miracle Greens recreational cannabis shop in Bend, urged the inclusion of face-to-face pre-application interviews to determine if the business would be a good partner.

Other considerations she suggested included: Do the owners have a connection to the city? What is their history of giving back to the community? Will the business' physical structure fit in with the city's architecture and character? Will the business provide marijuana education as a part of their business model?

Jeremy Kwit, a cannabis retailer who owns two Substance Cannabis Markets in Bend, cautioned Council to not be overly restrictive with marijuana regulation. He said he already receives 92-page sets of rules from the state that change every two months.

Kwit reported he provides employment for 27 people who all receive free company-provided healthcare insurance. From an economic development point of view, he said they support local operators who provide product and estimated they help employ 700 people in those businesses.

He worked on the committee that helped develop municipal regulations for marijuana in Bend and told Council he is available for consultation on both recreational and medical marijuana operations and invited them to tour his businesses.

Monica Piatt read a letter from a friend and local business owner of Faveur who also has a store in Bend. She urged Council to not allow marijuana-related businesses in Sisters. She claimed that allowing them in Bend has led to negative impacts on the atmosphere and livability of downtown Bend. She said her employees would rather work in the Sisters store because there isn't the loitering, open drug use, and offensive behaviors they experience in Bend. She believes having marijuana-related businesses in town is not a move in the right direction for Sisters.

Mary Ingraham, of Sisters, testified that allowing marijuana businesses in Sisters could have unintended consequences.

"What are we offering our youth?" she asked Council.

There would be, she believes, "implications for the health of our young people," and the City would be inviting problems.

Final testimony came from Nathaniel Cox, of Sisters, who has a business producing marijuana edibles. He spoke about the "unreasonable ostracization of cannabis over the last 100 years." He believes it offers medical and societal benefits and has "vastly more positive societal impacts than any negative effects."

He urged Council to take an "adult approach to marijuana because it is a question of personal liberty. People should be able to be who they want to be." Cox suggested that Sisters is small enough to deal with marijuana-related businesses on a unique case-by-case basis, with no need to impose more restrictions than the state already does.

Councilor Andrea Blum reiterated for those in the chamber that Council has no financial motivation for what they are currently investigating.

"We have to undertake these considerations due to the political climate on a state and national level. We aren't doing anything right now as far as businesses are concerned," she said.

By Sue Stafford

In a wide-ranging discussion regarding possible marijuana-related businesses in Sisters, the City Council spent 90 minutes at last week's workshop listening to and questioning City legal counsel Alan Dale in front of a packed Council chamber.

Passage in 2014 of state ballot Measure 91 legalized the "recreational use of marijuana, based on regulation and taxation to be determined by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission." However, Sisters business license code currently states, "no business license shall be issued to engage in a business that does not comply with local, state, or federal law."

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

If federal law were to change, as things currently stand, Sisters would no longer be able to deny business licenses to marijuana businesses on the grounds of Federal statute.

City manager Brant Kucera set the stage for the discussion last week by reminding Council and informing visitors that, for the past two years, addressing the matter of marijuana in Sisters has been a Council goal and it is the job of staff to see that Council goals are addressed.

"We should have regulations in place no matter what. Otherwise, we could have a whole host of things to deal with retroactively. We need to be proactive in trying to get out ahead of any possible changes. We can adopt reasonable regulations now and then decide in the future what to do about allowing marijuana businesses in Sisters," said Kucera.

The topics covered by Dale included: state marijuana taxation; local marijuana taxation; hemp-related businesses; City's business license code; time, place, and manner regulations for recreational and medical marijuana; and related land-use matters.

Council examined current City and state codes as well as proposed bills at both the state and Federal levels regarding marijuana production, processing, sales, and taxation, that could impact Sisters' current stance.

At one point in the evening, Councilor Andrea Blum reminded those filling the chamber that Council is not currently making any decisions regarding whether or not to allow marijuana businesses of any kind in Sisters.

They are educating themselves, including taking tours of facilities in other cities to observe and ask questions. Mayor Chuck Ryan told the assembled residents he plans to make contact with other mayors to glean what they have learned from having or not having marijuana businesses in their communities. Councilors plan to visit retail establishments as well.

Time, place and manner ordinances regulate when, where, and in what fashion marijuana can be sold. There are already 10 state regulations enforced by the OLCC, and cities are allowed to impose even more regulations beyond what the state does.

ORS47B.968 provides the authority for cities to ban marijuana activities but is not the only means for doing so. Regulation can be imposed by codes or land-use laws, and Council wants to be sure they understand the differences and possible ramifications.

If the City were to permit marijuana businesses, in any format, it must amend the Development Code to authorize specific marijuana uses in specific areas. The code should also specify any separation requirements for marijuana uses (such as between each other, from schools, etc.), and any other land-use requirements.

The City could change the wording of the licensing code and issue a license to a marijuana business, putting the onus on the business to understand they may not be in compliance with federal law.

Legal staff has prepared draft ordinances as examples of how the wording would be changed. At this juncture, Council is not yet addressing the issue of whether to allow marijuana businesses and, if so, what kind.

The purpose of the current work is to get regulations in place now so that, if needed, the City would have appropriate controls in place that reflect the majority opinion of the citizens.

Council is planning to hold a public meeting to hear from citizens their thoughts regarding marijuana businesses in the community. The date of that meeting is yet to be determined.

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