As I looked over my ballot last week, I was struck by what is not on it, as much as what is, and what it means for the future of Deschutes County. Last winter, even after the Deschutes County Planning Commission proposed reasonable regulations for cannabis businesses and strongly recommended that the county not opt-out of cannabis business licensing, a narrow but vocal interest group pressed for a ban on all cannabis businesses and tried to force voters into a “do over” on Measure 91, the 2014 statewide ballot measure that legalized and regulated recreational cannabis businesses in Oregon.
They very nearly succeeded. It would have been a hollow victory, to be sure. A recent poll of Deschutes County voters found that local support for legalization has increased since 2014, a trend borne out by this week’s election results in La Pine, where voters defeated a proposed local ban by a stunning margin.
But even a losing campaign would have been costly and divisive, and the extended delay would have further hamstrung the efforts of farmers and small-business owners to create jobs and economic opportunity in a thriving, well-regulated, local cannabis market.
Fortunately, after bringing stakeholders from all sides to the table through a Marijuana Advisory Committee, and after numerous public hearings and comments from hundreds of local citizens, county leaders wisely repealed the opt-out ordinance and allowed licensing to move forward.
As a result, local cannabis farmers and processors are now engaged in a licensing process that includes rigorous oversight by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Farmland that has been underutilized and in some cases neglected for years will be put to profitable agricultural use, fulfilling a goal of our Deschutes County Comprehensive Plan that has long eluded us.
Meanwhile, the economic engine that ground to a halt during the first half of this year is slowly cranking up again, and beginning to make good on its promise of renewal in Central Oregon. Investments that had been put off for months are finally moving forward. Businesses are growing. At the company I founded in 2013, we are building out the greenhouses at our 84-acre Tumalo farm and preparing to create at least two dozen new jobs in a major expansion of our downtown Bend dispensary.
In the wake of a string of election victories legalizing cannabis for adult use in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and likely Maine, it is clear that rational regulation and economic growth, rather than the violence and corruption of prohibition, are the future of cannabis. Central Oregon is well positioned, because of our geography, climate and permaculture, to grow some of the finest cannabis in the world.
In the coming years, we hope to see the laws and rules around cannabis evolve to allow Central Oregon to make the most of this economic opportunity. Licensing for on-premise consumption, and reasonable regulations allowing public “tastings” like we have for beer, wine and spirits would go a long way toward fostering the vibrant craft industry that Oregon’s cannabis industry is poised to become.
In the not-too-distant future, the federal government’s long, failed and ignoble experiment in prohibition will come to an end. When the laws banning sales between states come down, Oregon cannabis will be in great demand across the nation, and we will see a genuine economic boom. Just as with craft beer, our region is poised to reap both economic and cultural benefits. Look around. It’s already happening.
— Published in the Bend Bulletin on November 10th, 2016