Commissioners express concern over changes to marijuana law

Jackson County's Board of Commissioners is concerned over whether it will have any say over where medical marijuana dispensaries are located, and over the dispensaries' impacts to law enforcement and crime rates.

Dispensaries will be allowed to distribute marijuana to Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders following the passage of the bill signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber last month. It becomes law in March.

The board cited concerns over language in the bill that they say bars county and city jurisdictions from the process.

"Even if we wanted to put a countywide ban on this, basically, they've pre-empted us from doing that," said Commissioner Doug Breidenthal.

"We're going to be studying this really heavily for the next six months."

Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding said the main issue involves where dispensaries can be established. The bill says they can be sited on lands zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed-use land, such as a combination of commercial and residential.

"That's the question: Are these dispensaries appropriate in these (types of lands)?" Madding said, adding she believes local jurisdictions will have input on those types of decisions. "I think the intent was that these facilities are a land-use decision."

Board members said they are also concerned about the apparent lack of safeguards pertaining to the size and scope of such operations.

"So, in theory, somebody could build a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on agricultural land," said Commissioner John Rachor, adding the impacts to parking, road development and other factors need to be discussed. "None of that's been addressed yet. There are just a whole lot of questions."

The potential for increased calls for police due to illicit drug activity is also on the board's radar, with commissioners saying they fear crime rates could see a huge jump.

"You might as well be opening up Fort Knox for the criminals," Breidenthal said.

A statement by Gov. John Kitzhaber upon signing the bill stresses stakeholders, including local law enforcement, will be part of the rule-making process overseen by the Oregon Health Authority. The OHA also will have the ability to inspect and audit the financial records of the dispensaries, it says.

"There are two main goals we wish to achieve," Kitzhaber's statement reads. "First: we want to ensure the overall safety of our communities through appropriate rules to license and regulate dispensaries and second, we want to allow the patients safe access to marijuana if they are eligible for treatment."

State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, one of the bill's sponsors, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The bill says the OHA will create a dispensary registration system, and would have the ability to inspect the dispensaries, making sure they follow current state law on medical marijuana. Madding has requested to be on the OHA rule-making committee, but has not yet heard back from the organization.

Whether she is or not, she said, she plans to follow the implementation progress and make recommendations on land use ordinance amendments to the board, if necessary.

"Jackson County will be tuned into (their) endeavors, this effort," Madding said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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