States across the country have embraced cannabis law reform. The 2020 election brought the total number of states to legalize recreational marijuana from 11 to 15, and the total to legalize medical marijuana from 33 to 35. One in three Americans now lives in a state that legalized marijuana in some form. But not everyone wants to live near cannabis. A surprising exception to this green wave sweeping the nation is in our home state of Oregon. The voters in Deschutes County, whose county seat is Bend, passed a measure to prohibit additional OLCC-licensed recreational marijuana production and processing businesses and additional OHA-registered medical marijuana processing sites outside city limits, effectively allowing Deschutes County to opt-out of cannabis legalization.
Since Oregon legalized cannabis in 2014, Deschutes County is the first county in Oregon to have initially opted out of the state’s recreational marijuana program at its inception, then opt in to the program in 2016, only to reverse course and opt out of the program again. However, Deschutes County’s recent opt-out does not mean that it has completely rid itself of all cannabis. Existing cannabis businesses are not impacted by the opt-out, and new recreational cannabis retail and wholesale businesses are still allowed. Additionally, while the newly passed measure prevents the establishment of any new recreational cannabis producers and processors, as well as new medical cannabis processing sites, the County has provided some cover for producer and processor applicants who are caught in the middle, i.e., those who have already begun establishing their businesses in the County.
County Ordinance No. 2019-014, which became effective on August 19, 2019, established the opt-out measure that was referred to voters in last month’s election. County Ordinance No. 2019-015, which became effective October 16, 2019, provides that the ordinance establishing the opt-out remains adopted, but also clarifies that the opt-out does not apply to:
“an applicant who as of the date this Ordinance is in effect has a pending production or processing license application before the OLCC and who applied for County land use approval/LUCS allowing marijuana production and/or processing prior to August 19, 2019.”
The effect of the clarification in Ordinance No. 2019-015 is to “grandfather” producer and processor applicants who had not yet received an OLCC license or County land use approval, but had a pending OLCC application in the queue and applied for County land use approval before August 19, 2019.
Given that cannabis sales in Oregon reached over $1 billion this year, Deschutes County’s decision to preclude additional recreational cannabis producer and processor businesses in its jurisdiction may also preclude a good opportunity for future economic development in the County. But who knows, the County could decide to change its mind once again.