Legal pot puts local agencies in a tough spot

It’s no secret that marijuana legalization has created controversy in Crook County.

Even before the events of the past year, presence of the drug in a retail environment raised concerns among citizens and local officials alike. That tendency for controversy was exacerbated when the first attempt at operating a legal pot dispensary, the Crook County Compassionate Care Clinic, ran afoul of the law, resulting in arrests and an eviction for business owner Ryan Cole.

Of course, during the past year, the state has forced open the doors for marijuana retail in Crook County. First, House Bill 1531 was passed that allowed a moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in communities – in order to provide time to pass land use laws that allow them. During the moratorium period, May 1, 2014 to May 1, 2015, Oregon voters passed Measure 91, making the drug legal for recreational use and commercial sale.

Some people spoke out in favor of the changes, but it became clear, based on the words of local government and law enforcement leaders and the rejection of Measure 91 by Crook County voters, that the majority did not want marijuana in their community.

At the same time, because of the new state laws, local leaders were left with no choice in the matter, and they have consequently played the hand they were dealt to varying degrees. Crook County, seeing little possibility of a medical marijuana facility on county land, opted to extend its moratorium beyond May 1. The city, by contrast, developed land use laws for both medical and recreational marijuana sales, with an emphasis on keeping them away from schools and parks.

Fast forward a couple months to present day, and the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce took the step of embracing Plantae Health, a new medical marijuana facility.

Not surprisingly, the decision provoked concerns and controversy. Chamber Director Casey Kaiser acknowledged that board members wrestled with the decision to grant membership to a business that sells marijuana. Not everyone involved with the decision personally supports such a business. But in the end, the Chamber opted to embrace Plantae Health and support a business that as far as anyone knows is operating within the confines of state and local laws.

Notice that we didn’t say federal law. Therein lies the challenge for local government, law enforcement and Chamber leaders. Federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning its possession, sale and use is illegal.

County court, City Council and Chamber board members have all had to face the fact that regardless of state mandates, they are allowing private use and commercial sale of a federally illegal substance.

It is an unenviable position to be in, and realizing that, we believe that the Chamber, City Council and county commissioners deserve our patience as they try to deal with the laws as they currently exist.

We don’t envy the decision the Chamber was asked to make. Acting on the belief that Plantae Health is operating legally – at least according to state and local law – they opened themselves up to potential backlash from businesses and residents.

We similarly feel the City Council was put in a tough spot in having to carefully construct land use laws governing medical marijuana dispensaries and eventual recreation pot retail establishments. Mandated by state law to allow these businesses, they were tasked with keeping them as far from places minors frequent as possible while still providing a place for business.

Lastly, we find no fault with the county choosing to retain its moratorium. Since an attempt to open a dispensary on county land seems unlikely, it makes sense not to invite that option unless they are pushed to do so. In the meantime, it makes a statement that is consistent with the views of the majority of voters and local leaders.

We hope, if pot remains legal for use and sale in Oregon, that those who choose to operate a dispensary or retail establishment vigilantly follow state and local regulations and above all, keep the drug out of the hands of children. Not everyone will be happy marijuana is legal, but hopefully the Crook County community can make the most of the situation.

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