When Deschutes County voted in November to prohibit new marijuana production and processing outside the county’s cities, the vote also meant something else.
The vote cut the county off from what was about $500,000 a year in revenue from the state.
That money would have gone to help fund the county health department and law enforcement. It turned out that the vote ostensibly to stop additional marijuana production in the county was also a vote that made it more difficult for Deschutes County to fight addiction and crime.
The way Oregon’s marijuana laws were written excluding any type of marijuana operation meant losing all the marijuana money. It doesn’t matter that Deschutes County does have existing marijuana producers. As state Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, explained the law was written like an on/off switch. County voters turned it off.
Kropf and state Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, have introduced a fix, House Bill 3295. It turns the funding mechanism into more of a “dimmer switch” in Kropf’s words. Deschutes County would continue to get funding, according to the same state formula as before — revenue raised is divided up based on acreage and licensing. Deschutes County or any other government entity wouldn’t be cut off entirely because it prohibits new operations. Kropf, Zika and Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone testified in favor of the bill earlier this month.
Two important issues came up during that hearing. Did voters know the county would lose revenue? Some did. The Bulletin wrote about it. Commissioners also discussed it during public meetings. But the revenue drop wasn’t clearly explained in the voter’s pamphlet.
The second issue is: The amount of money at stake will be significantly reduced by November’s Measure 110. Measure 110 was the ballot measure approved statewide that provides more money for drug treatment. It will siphon off about 72% of the $500,000. Still the county might get $140,000 and that amount seems likely to rise as marijuana revenue increases over time.
State law shouldn’t be written to punish Deschutes County unfairly. It is. If this fix doesn’t pass this session, the law still needs to be changed.