- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) - Voters will decide in 2016 whether to bar marijuana sales in the unincorporated parts of Douglas County.

The county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved two ordinances this week after hearing impassioned testimony from marijuana fans and foes.

The first would bar medical marijuana dispensaries in rural parts of the southwest Oregon county from selling recreational marijuana products; however, it will have no immediate impact because there are no dispensaries in those areas.

The second ordinance will let voters decide if medical or recreational marijuana retail outlets should be allowed in the county’s unincorporated areas - those places outside Roseburg, Sutherlin and other incorporated cities. The vote will take place in November 2016.

Some audience members testified that medical marijuana had helped them. Others said that growing and selling recreational marijuana could be a boon to the local economy. Still others said marijuana legalization harms families and puts kids at risk.

Currently, there are no medical or recreational marijuana retailers in the county’s unincorporated areas. If voters approve the proposed restrictions, there never will be.

Statewide, voters legalized recreational marijuana when they approved Measure 91. In Douglas County, though, 54.5 percent of voters rejected Measure 91.

Counties that voted against Measure 91 can opt out under legislation passed this year. But because the “no” votes were less than 55 percent of those cast, the question must be put before the voters.

Richard Chasm, a member of the Umpqua Cannabis Association, said he favors allowing marijuana sales in rural areas.

Chasm said Douglas County has the land, the water and the sun cannabis plants need, so it is poised to become one of the biggest marijuana producing counties in Oregon. That could be great for economic and job growth, Chasm said. And the people who get those jobs would spend most of their money locally, he said.

“This could be a tremendous economic benefit to Douglas County, a tremendous economic benefit to rural people, rural landowners, farmers, family farmers,” he said.

Kay Bjornson went a step further.

“What are we going to do? Are we going to lay back and shoot ourselves in the foot and piss away the opportunity to make Douglas County the marijuana-growing capital of the world, or at least the U.S.?” he said.

The Rev. Clint Caviness, on the other hand, said the cost to families would be very high. Caviness, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Roseburg, counsels families and said he has never worked with a family that was made stronger through marijuana use.

“A high parent cannot be the best version of himself. In fact, he’s often not even a functional version of himself,” Caviness said.

Lt. Patrick Moore, director of the Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team, said he is concerned about children getting their hands on marijuana edibles with high concentrations of THC, the chemical that gives marijuana users the high. He also said studies show that marijuana use among youths increases when the drug is legalized.

“Youth use goes up with every step of legitimization. Abuse goes up with every step of legitimization,” Moore said.

Veteran Scott Newman said medicinal marijuana treats his depression and has made him a better person.

“Cannabis has done for me in four years what the VA couldn’t do in a decade with all the medications in their pharmacopoeia,” Newman said.

Betsy Cunningham said the commissioners shouldn’t buy into what she called the “hysterical rhetoric” from marijuana opponents.

“The immediate threat to all of us is the overconsumption of alcohol,” she said. “That really does cost lives.”

The businesses that voters will be asked to prohibit in 2016 include marijuana processing, wholesalers, medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational marijuana retailers. It will not impact people who grow their own marijuana for personal use.

County Commissioner Tim Freeman said he doesn’t see a need for dispensaries in areas outside any city’s limits, where, he notes, there are no pharmacies.

“I believe the incorporated areas provide plenty of access,” he said.

But, he added, it’s the voters who will make the choice in 2016.

“Instead of three commissioners deciding, the people of Douglas County are going to be able to decide if they want this in their community or not,” Freeman said.

___

Information from: The News-Review, https://www.nrtoday.com

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