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Columbia County considers extended moratorium on marijuana

Ordinance could push legalization of dispensaries and grow sites to 2016

COURTNEY VAUGHN - Henry Heimuller, chairman of the county commissioners, said Wednesday that the county is considering an extension of its temporary restriction on marijuana dispensaries. A public hearing is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 8 on the matter.

Columbia County is moving forward with its consideration of an extended moratorium on marijuana in unincorporated areas.

A public hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 8, to consider extending the county’s moratorium on medical marijuana for an additional 120 days, and possibly up to nine months.

The temporary restriction would apply to grow sites and dispensaries and would include recreational marijuana.

Moving in lockstep to temporarily restrict the sale and growth of marijuana last year, cities and county leaders adopted moratoriums that are set to expire May 1.

While the restrictions were still in place, Oregon voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Now, local governments are charged with developing land use laws for the permitting and siting of retail and harvesting operations.

According to rules set by the state’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program, dispensaries cannot be established within 1,000 feet of schools or other dispensaries, and “must be located in an area that is zoned by the local governing agency for commercial, industrial or mixed use or as agricultural land.”

While cities like Scappoose are in the process of drafting land use regulations to accommodate the law, the county wants more time.

“The reason the board is considering extending the moratorium of uses is to allow time for the county to develop a comprehensive land use plan that allows medical marijuana uses and recreational uses,” Todd Dugdale, land development services director for Columbia County, said Monday.

Dugdale said the county mailed out nearly 9,000 postcards to inform residents of the public hearing. The notice informs residents that a copy of the proposed ordinance can be viewed or purchased at the courthouse. Dugdale said he’s hoping to get a copy of the draft document up on the land use department’s website as soon as it’s available.

In January, county commissioners met to discuss the county’s options, in light of the expiration of the temporary prohibition.

Dugdale said there is a provision in the state law that allows the county to extend its moratorium past the May 1 deadline, if a land use hearing is held. That would give the county the time it wants to work on new land use laws for marijuana.

“There’s been a lot of uncertainty as to how the law is to be applied,” Dugdale noted. “We wanted to have all the rules on the table from the state before moving forward.”

He said any permitted grow sites already in place would be exempt from the moratorium.

Henry Heimuller, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday, March 11, that the push for more time “has nothing to do with the county trying to circumvent the law or anything like that.”

Heimuller said the county prefers to wait for guidance and rules from the state regarding medical and recreational marijuana, rather than adopting an ordinance that may have to be changed once the state establishes new regulations.

If a moratorium is adopted by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, it won’t affect citizens’ rights to possess marijuana within the legal confines of the law. It could, however, restrict residents’ rights to grow or sell the drug until at least February 2016.