Dunes City votes to ban future marijuana grows, keep existing ones

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, Dunes City Council voted unanimously to temporarily ban any future medical grow sites in the city, but allow existing grow operations to remain.

Currently, there are three marijuana grow facilities going through the process of certification by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

Ordinance 245, originally proposed in August, would have banned all processing sites, producers, dispensaries, processors and wholesalers from opening within city limits, including those facilities which are currently being built.

But on Wednesday, Councilor Robert Orr moved for an amendment to the ordinance, stating that existing operations should be allowed to stay.

In defending the motion, Orr stated, “I am very much in favor of Section 245. This is a personal statement. I believe that what’s right for Dunes City is to not have marijuana growing here. At the same time, we have consulted with counsel and we are clearly of the belief that we need to add this amendment before we can consider Ordinance 245.”

Councilor Alan Montgomery stated that while he agreed Dunes City did not want or need commercial marijuana grown in the area, the current growers “bought the property in good faith, did their work in good faith and we can’t move the goal post now. So, the exception is very logical. I hope when the initiative comes up in 2018, Dunes City residents will stop further marijuana grows.”

The ban is temporary, lasting only until the 2018 November Election, when Dunes City residents will have a chance to vote on the bans’ permanence.

The issue regarding marijuana grow operations extends back to 2016, when voters approved a three percent tax on recreational marijuana sales. But marijuana grow sites were not mentioned, or banned, in the vote.

In January 2017, during a discussion on the issue, Dunes City Administrator Jamie Mills pointed out that while the state is “very strict about the locations of recreational marijuana businesses and is very particular about recreational grow facilities,” Dunes City currently did not have code addressing any of its own restrictions.

Thus, the city had to abide by state regulations, which led to marijuana grow sites being allowed in the city.

Councilor Duke Wells, who made a protest vote against the amendment but voted for the resolution in full, spoke of the difficulties the council faced the prior year.

“In 2016, I was the only councilor who was here when that went on. When I made that vote on the three percent, I thought that was the end of the conversation. There were a lot sharper people on that council than me, and none of us caught it. I know the council in 2016 would have voted ‘no’ for commercial grows,” he said.

“Dunes City doesn’t need this,” he continued. “I don’t see an upside for this in Dunes City. I want it clear to residents where the buck stops, and on this the buck stops with me.” 

The ordinance does not fully protect the grow sites, which are still in the process of getting approval by OLCC.

If those applications are denied, they would have to reapply for approval from the city. In that case, they would be considered a “new application,” which would fall under the Ordinance 245 ban.

An overflow crowd attended the meeting, with public comments being made for and against the ordinance.

Land Use Attorney Ross Day, who represents the three grow operations, warned Dunes City Council not to pass the ordinance because his clients had a vested right in the property.

“I strongly suggest, before you move further with this, you sit down with legal counsel, follow proper procedures, go line by line and make sure you’re not exposing the city to substantial liability,” he said.

Resident Sherry Nelson made an impassioned plea for the grow, stating that medical marijuana had helped her family. She chastised city residents for getting their information from what she called “gossip”.

“I spent a full day gathering information the hard way. I went out to the grow site because we were welcomed there, as we all were, to visit the site. So, I toured it. And then I went to places that sell marijuana, which this place isn’t. How many of you have gone and talked to them? Not from your gossip, but spoke to them directly?” she asked.

Arguments made against the grow site were many, including a newly dug well on the site.

The well, which had reached a depth in excess of 400 feet, was larger than the typical 100-foot wells found in the city. The well had originally been planned to be shallower, but there were issues during construction as the walls kept caving in.

A leaflet distributed by resident Catherine Caudle at the beginning of the meeting stated, “You may be at risk of losing your water supply if you are on a well.”

The fear was, water taken from the well would ultimately drain other wells in the area and have a negative impact on the lake.

Mills read a statement from Michael J. Thoma, PhD, a hydrogeologist for the Oregon Water Resource Department.

The technically laden document concluded, “It is unlikely that even heavy use of the well will significantly impact the lake. A 400-foot well will have the same impact as a 100-foot well.”

It was also pointed out in public comments, which was then confirmed by the Siuslaw News, that the commercial grow site will not be using the well water; all water for the operation will be shipped in from Eugene. The well in question was for the private residence on the property site.

Dunes City resident Don Anderson, a retired fire captain, spoke of his experiences working in Humboldt County, Calif., before moving to Oregon.

“Humboldt County was known as the redwood capital of California,” he said. “Now it’s known as the pot growing capital of California. Anywhere we went to fight fires, we had to have an armed escort because people would shoot at firefighters in the event that we got too close to their marijuana. Everybody was worried that somebody was going to steal their crops.

“I don’t feel that Dunes City has the law enforcement capability to maintain,” Anderson continued. “What if next year, 40, 50 sites come in? Dunes City will be known as the pot capital of Lane County.”

Ultimately, the largest argument against the grow sites came down to residents simply not wanting marijuana in their city.

Dunes City resident Richard Booth said, “I don’t want our city sullied by a pot grow. If there are financial issues that are affecting the decisions of the council, please ignore them. I’d be happy to pay taxes in lieu of a three percent marijuana tax. Do whatever is necessary from legally preventing this from happening.”

Speaking after the meeting, Wells said that it was now the job of Dunes City residents to begin to campaign to make the ordinance permanent in 2018, which he hoped they would.

When asked how residents should deal with the grow facilities currently allowed, he said, “I don’t dictate what anybody does. If somebody feels like they want to go over and know those folks, and see their facilities, they should take a look at it.”

But Wells says he won’t be one of those people.

“No, I have my own personal history in my family with drugs, and I don’t like drugs. And I won’t associate with drugs,” he said.

He continued, “I will say, at the end of the day, marijuana growers, it’s all part of the drug culture, whether the state’s legalized it or not. I don’t think this is over yet. I think our attorney general, when he gets done with some other things, is going to move against this and the states that legalized it. The problem is, there’s a hell of a lot of money there. That’s going to be an issue to see.”

After the vote, Day, the attorney representing the three grow operations, said, “I’m very happy that they took the time to contact their own legal counsel and get sound advice on a solution that will be the best, not only for my clients, but for the entire community of Dunes City.”

Valerie Cain-Mathis, one of the growers represented by Day, said, “I really appreciate all the education that people received, and I welcome any questions that people have in the future. I’m sorry for anybody that felt offended by anything that happened here. There’s no animosity. We did come here to try and fight for what we knew was right for us, and other people who had medical issues.”

Dunes City Mayor Robert Forsythe said, “You can see the room was split. But I would encourage voters to get out, because it’s how we know what the public wants. ... It’s important that people communicate, so we know what’s important to all of our citizens, and not just those who make it out to a city council meeting.

“I would really like to see people get involved in the city. If there’s this much passion over one topic, maybe they can have passion over serving. Please, share your passion by getting involved.”

To get involved, contact Dunes City Hall at 541-997-3338.

Dunces City Council meetings, which are open to the public, are held every second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend or view live online via the UStream app.

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