BEND, Ore. - Potential marijuana growers and processors in Deschutes County must pay a road fee called a system development charge. That charge, now under fire from the Oregon Farm Bureau, is unique to the county, which adopted it about two years ago.
This week, county commissioners signed off on a letter that will be sent to a legislative committee that was asked by the Farm Bureau to review the county's regulations on marijuana grow operations. The SDCs are collected based on the increase in vehicle trips generated by a new development.
The county believes marijuana grow sites generate a lot of traffic, much like other processing facilities, based on how much work it takes to maintain those plants.
"It's a little over $4,000 per trip, so a 10,000 square-foot greenhouse is going to generate a little less than two trips, so it would be around $8,000 for a 10,000-square-foot warehouse," county Road Department Director Chris Doty said Thursday.
"As it pertains to marijuana grow operations in Deschutes County, we feel they do generate traffic, just like other developments," Doty said. "Therefore, they are eligible and need to pay a system development charge to pay their fair share of transportation improvements we need in our system."
According to County Commissioner Tony DeBone, the Oregon Farm Bureau has requested state lawmakers take a look at the marijuana regulations in Deschutes County, specifically regarding the SDCs.
The charge helps mitigate growth in the transportation system, so new capital improvements are not paid solely by taxpayers (or as is often said, to have growth pay its own way).
"The state Legislature defines (marijuana as a crop to be grown on farmland, and in Deschutes County we have a lot of rural, residential-style, recreational lots," DeBone said. "A lot of people live in the rural county close to Bend and between the big cites, so it is just a unique layout in Deschutes County ,and we all know it. So we narrowed the path, put some regulations and requirements in place. Part of it was the system development charge."
County officials noted that marijuana can be grown year-round, unlike most seasonal crops.
The Oregon Farm Bureau has several members who grow marijuana in Deschutes County. The organization was informed that growers are required to pay SDCs, and has said they do not think it is appropriate to charge growers because, according to the Legislature, cannabis is a farm crop. No other farm producers in a farm zone are required to pay SDCs.
"I think it is designed to make it more difficult to farm marijuana in Deschutes County. They are the only county that is doing this," said the Farm Bureaus' public policy council liaison, Mary Anne Cooper.
"It's incredibly expensive, and for us, it's not only a concern about how it impacts future marijuana grow operations, but also whether or not they will start looking to do it for other farm uses."
Cannabend Store Manager Fernando Teson said, "The market is currently difficult enough, and I notice investors and startups having to end up paying tens of thousands of dollars more than anticipated, with the current county regulations. This either forces the owner to proceed and maybe fold, or take his idea to another county, both of which I've seen."