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Officials hold off on opt out decision, take testimony from both sides of issue at workshop

Prineville City Council and staff met Tuesday to discuss the pros and cons of banning marijuana businesses, but after an hour-long session, delayed a decision.

The workshop was the second held thus far to determine whether or not they would take advantage of an Oregon House Bill 3400 provision that allows them to prohibit up to six different medical and recreational marijuana business types within the city limits.

The city has already approved one medical dispensary, Plantae Health, which would not be affected if any sort of ban on dispensaries was enacted. The city has created a land use plan for recreational marijuana retail, but has tied approval of any business to the drug being legal under federal law.

Seating was scarce in the Prineville City Hall Council Chambers as officials and staff invited two guest speakers representing different perspectives on marijuana sales. First up was retired Crook County Circuit Court Judge Gary Thompson who favors opting out of all marijuana businesses.

Thompson spoke of how he founded the Crook County Drug Court during his time on the bench and how it is designed to help people convicted of drug-related offenses overcome their addiction.

“You are just slapped in the face with people who have drug and alcohol addiction,” he remarked.

Of the drugs addicts attempted to quit, Thompson said marijuana was often the toughest for people in drug court to stop using.

The retired judge went on to cite other safety and health concerns associated with marijuana use. He noted that pot-related DUIIs had increased in Colorado, where pot was legalized for recreational use, at a time when alcohol related DUIIs were in decline. He also spoke out against medical marijuana use, calling it a scheme to legalize the drug for recreational use.

“First you start with having medical marijuana in the state, then you come back and attempt to legalize recreational marijuana,” he said. “It isn’t medicine. It isn’t recognized by the federal government as medicine.”

Thompson was followed by Brian Trani, the CEO and founder of Martra Holdings and Martra Development Company. He introduced himself as a general contractor from Colorado with vast experience in building and overseeing large-scale cannabis operations.

“I would probably agree with a lot of the adages of the community here that this is a dangerous arena that requires steadfast looking into and a great amount of planning,” he said.

Trani said he has watched or been involved in many projects in his home state and watched them fail, which has enabled him to eliminate those problems from the start. His primary sticking point is that many communities who venture into the cannabis industry fail to account for the drain on local infrastructure, and end up with many buildings that demand more resources than the community can provide.

Trani said he can build a facility that is 90 percent more energy efficient than most grow operations and through brokerage connections, bring in an experienced and reputable operator in the cannabis industry to run the facility.

“There is a way that a little town like this can really benefit from it if the facility is done correctly,” he said of marijuana sales and processing facilities. He handed each councilor a packet that highlighted information on the facilities he creates and the job creation and economic growth they could expect.

Job creation and economic growth has been a consideration as the city has examined its options. City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck noted that at least three companies have approached him with interest in building a recreational marijuana facility.

“So, staff is asking the council for direction,” he said. “You have told us to be supportive of business and create jobs whenever possible ... So now we have kind of a collision of policies.”

Council members discussed the possibility of imposing a 3 percent tax on marijuana sales as well as opening up the city to growing and processing the drug. They also considered staying the course of prohibiting recreational businesses pending a change in federal law.

Some councilors expressed an interest in gathering input from the public to determine what action the community favors. Councilor Jason Beebe expressed an interest in retrieving data on how city residents voted on Measure 91 – the only data referenced thus far is for all of Crook County.

Councilor Jason Carr later stated that Measure 91 data may not give them the information they need to make a decision.

“Before (Measure 91 passed), the question was do you agree with recreational marijuana in general,” he explained. “This (new question) is do you agree with the city allowing businesses related to recreational and medicinal marijuana.”

Carr went on to suggest that a town hall might best provide the council the answers they seek. “As a representative of the community, I don’t really feel like I have a good sense of what people are really thinking,” he said.

Following the workshop, the council convened its regular business meeting, a session where the public is allowed and encouraged to speak and ask questions. About a dozen individuals signed up to address the council, the majority of them in favor of legalized marijuana.

Most of the pro-cannabis speakers trumpeted the economic benefits of allowing recreational pot businesses, stating that it would create jobs and provide substantial revenue to what has been a struggling local economy.

Resident Kim Kambak, a former teacher and administrator in the Crook County School District, went on to stress that children will get marijuana whether the drug is legal to sell in a community or not. Consequently, she prefers legal and regulated sale of the drug so that if kids get their hands on it, it will more likely be the heavily scrutinized legal pot and not the more dangerous and unregulated version sold by drug dealers.

The Prineville City Council intends to revisit the opt out discussion in a future meeting, possibly as soon as in the next two weeks. Councilors have until Dec. 27 of this year, according to HB 3400, to make a decision or lose the ability to do so.

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