Columbia River Gorge Commissioners listened to public comments during their Jan. 12 meeting regarding the implementation of Oregon’s Measure 91 and Washington Initiative 502.
As planners have prepared for implementation of Measure 91 in Oregon and Initiative 502 in Washington, the Gorge Commission was asked about guidance for application of said laws in the National Scenic Area. During the CRGC’s Jan. 12 meeting commissioners revisited the discussion after a memo was released Dec. 16, 2015 by CRGC counselor Jeff Litwak, which advised counties on their approach to the implementation of the new laws in the National Scenic Area.
In the conclusion of the memo Litwak advised that the “Gorge Commission cannot expressly all-ow marijuana land uses in the Management Plan for the National Scenic Area and cannot approve county land use ordinances or other legislative or permitting actions that expressly allow marijuana land uses in the National Scenic Area, or that interpret or apply existing provisions of a land use ordinance to allow marijuana land uses in the national Scenic Area.”
The memo concludes with, “this includes, but is not limited to allowing marijuana land uses as agricultural use without review in the National Scenic Area of allowing marijuana production or processing within agricultural structures or buildings.”
Commissioners then opened the floor to questions and public comments from the audience, one of the two participants who spoke was Michael Lang, conservation director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
Lang provided a statement on behalf of the Friends.
“Probably all you know this, and I think that Mr. Litwak’s memo was clear, that we’re not talking about personal use,” Lang explained, “we’re talking about particularly under Oregon law what is defined as a marijuana business. So that’s the production, processing, wholesale, or retail of marijuana, and currently counties throughout the scenic area particularly Multnomah County, is moving forward with ordinances to implement measure 91.”
Lang then explained that in August 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memo to the states explicitly stating the Department of Justice’s lack of interest in enforcing the controlled substances act in states that adopt reasonable regulations for what Lang refers to as “marijuana businesses.”
“I’ll just use a general term marijuana businesses, it doesn’t say that explicitly in the memo- and that memo is also included in a staff report from Multnomah County planning to the planning commission,” said Lang.
“What it does is lay out several, eight different criteria by which states can proceed as long as they stay within these recommendations they can adopt reasonable time and place regulations,” Lang explained. “So whether or not the Gorge Commission is compelled by state law to allow marijuana businesses — we don’t think that it is — on the other hand the federal government [and] the Department of Justice has made it quite clear that they’re not going to enforce the controlled substances act in states and local governments that stay within these eight guidelines and adopt reasonable regulations. So it’s up to you.”
“Friends of the Columbia Gorge approach this from a slightly different direction than your [CRGC] staff has,” explained Lang, “and that is we’re looking at the actual impacts on scenic, natural, cultural, recreation resources and on agricultural land in particular.”
Lang then elaborated on some information the Friends had obtained from Multnomah County industry advocates, which stated the size of the structures for commercially viable enterprise being “10,000 square feet to produce marijuana.” These structures are normally green houses, or permanent structures, with lights on the inside. Not outdoor growing operations, Lang noted.
“There’s a very large potential visual impact, and that’s just for production. For processing, additional facilities, according to the industry, would be 5,000 square feet or bigger for processing,” said Lang.
“And then with wholesale and retail, in combination with the large size and foot print of these structures really make it more like an industrial use, rather than as Oregon has characterized it as an agricultural use,” he added
“We’re [the Friends] concerned about the potential impacts to scenic resources from these large structures,” said Lang, “allowing them in the counties could set up a conflict between what they claim is a minimum necessary to produce marijuana and have a viable business and the mandate of the commission to protect the scenic natural cultural and recreational resources.”
The final recommendation Lang delivered was for the Gorge Commission to favor the protection of resources, and “communicate to the counties that this use should not be allowed within the scenic area, the ordinances should not be amended to allow this use, and then let this play out in Oregon and Washington, revisit it maybe in three years and see how successful county ordinances are in managing this new enterprise, this new business and protecting resources.”
Commissioner Rodger Nichols then made a statement referring to a Wasco County Commission hearing, at the conclusion of which officials passed regulations for time and place for marijuana businesses outside of the scenic area and outside urban areas in Wasco County. Nicholas said as a result of the memo Litwak sent out, Wasco commissioners followed the recommended advice, as Nicholas put it, “Let’s not go there.”
The Gorge Commission didn’t take any action after discussing and reviewing Litwak’s memo.