A ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of Lincoln County is set to expire May 1. County commissioners have asked the planning commission for rule recommendations to adopt before the deadline. (Photo by Mark-Flickr Create Commons 3.0)

By Larry Coonrod

NEWPORT—With a moratorium set to expire in unincorporated areas May 1, county commissioners are fast tracking medical marijuana dispensary regulations.

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The county last year established a moratorium banning medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in the unincorporated areas of the county under a law passed by the state legislature.

Without local rules in place, dispensary operators would operate under state medical marijuana rules, which are less restrictive than what most local governments have passed once the moratorium expires.

Planning Commission to Recommend Rules

County commissioners sent the issue to its planning commission to review at its April 18 meeting. Because of the impending deadline, commissioners expect the planning commission to review staff expectations, take public comment and forward their recommendation on April 18. The commissioners then plan a vote before the end of April. 

County Counsel Wayne Belmont said the county had hoped the state legislature would clarify medical marijuana rules before the deadline or at least extend the moratorium.

“Why they would not allow us to wait until they finish their business to do ours is beyond me,” Belmont said.

Grow Sites a Concern

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program allows each patient up to six plants. Those with state OMMP cards typically assign their plants to a grower, who can sell the excess not used by the patient.

Belmont said although the dispensaries are highly regulated, the grow sites are less so. The size of growing operations concerns the county because of stacking—where one operator is growing for multiple OMMP patients.

One grower had close to 100 OMMP cards, equal to a grow limit of almost 600 plants. Belmont said growing creates land use and zoning questions in need of answers.

“That’s quite a large quantity of marijuana,” he said. “Zoning wise we are scratching our heads trying to figure out when, where and how these places can go in.”

Local Regulation of Dispensaries

State medical marijuana rules allow local governments to regulate time and place that dispensaries operate and signage. Belmont said county staff is looking at other dispensary regulations adopted by other cities and counties.

“The whole idea is to get these regulations in place before May 1st so we can lift the moratorium,” he said.

Recreational Marijuana Separate Issue

To be clear, the rules under consideration by the county would affect only medical marijuana dispensaries and growers.

Recreational marijuana — legal as of July 1 — is regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The Oregon Health Authority oversees the medical marijuana program. 

Because OLCC plans a stringent “seed-to-sale” tracking program of recreational marijuana, medical marijuana dispensaries will not sell recreational weed.

New State Laws Could Trump Local Rules

The impending moratorium puts the county in the position of needing to quickly adopt rules that a pending bill in the state legislature may soon supersede.

“To me this isn’t a very good way to make policy, but the alternative is worse,” said County Commissioner Bill Hall. 

“If we want to do anything proactively to minimize negative impacts on the community I think this is our only alternative even it is not a good one.”