PENDLETON — The Pendleton City Council has mostly stayed out of the marijuana debate over the past two years, but it’s set to reenter the fray in the near future.
On Thursday, the Pendleton Planning Commission will meet to consider changes to the marijuana zoning code. Among its most significant alterations is a prohibition on outdoor marijuana grows in commercial and residential areas.
From 2015 through 2017, marijuana was a hot topic of debate as the public successfully pressured the city council to put the issue of legalizing marijuana sales onto the ballot.
Not wanting to be caught without any regulations, the council passed zoning rules for marijuana facilities ahead of the November 2016 election. When the ballot measures passed, the city used it to approve three active cannabis retailers and a pot producer in 2017.
City Planner George Cress said the planning commission decided to revisit the zoning code because the language was in need of “wordsmithing” and streamlining, like formally banning marijuana sales in residential zones and consolidating all zoning codes applying to marijuana into one section of the code.
The substance of the zoning rules are mostly the same: Retailers are restricted to service commercial and central mixed-use zones while wholesalers and producers are confined to the light industrial zones in town.
Regardless of their purpose, no marijuana businesses can be located within 1,000 feet of a school, public park, or another cannabis facility.
But the most sweeping feature of the revisions is a requirement on growing or storing marijuana “indoors in a solid walled structure.”
Cress said the new language was a result of complaints the city received over the smell of outdoor marijuana grows.
“In the summertime, if (marijuana is) growing, it has an aroma, especially if (growers are) processing it,” he said. “There was a lot of complaints about that, so we tried to have some mitigation to that, where they could grow indoors.”
Under current rules, Pendletonians can grow their own marijuana for personal use as long as it’s obstructed from public view.
Brandon Krenzler of Kind Leaf Pendleton is well-versed in the aversion some residents have to marijuana grows.
The co-owner of Pendleton’s first cannabis retailer withdrew a permit application for a greenhouse marijuana grow off of Highway 11 after some members of the public opposed it for months.
At the time, Krenzler said the old nursery no longer fit into Kind Leaf’s plans.
Krenzler acknowledged some of the concerns about farming marijuana, and even added that he would be open to requiring medical marijuana growers to locate indoors because medical cannabis grows can swell to dozens of plants under certain circumstances.
But Krenzler said the city’s proposed rules for recreational grows cuts too close on Oregonians’ right to grow their own cannabis, especially when other pungent crops like rosemary and mint are still allowed in backyards.
“If you’re allowed to cultivate hops or things like that in your backyard, you should be allowed to grow cannabis back there without everyone worried about it.”
Although it isn’t a primary source of revenue, he said Kind Leaf has sold hundreds of “clones” — immature marijuana plants used for growing — this year, indicating a local interest in marijuana cultivation.
Krenzler was concerned about forcing marijuana growers indoors, where the operation can get very hot due to the presence of grow lights, circulation fans, and carbon filtration fans.
“A lot of people, historically, have created their own electrical systems for these indoor grows,” he said. “What can happen then is novices may make mistakes with wiring things up, cutting into their existing systems, which can lead to an excess of fire risk.”
Cress said any indoor grows that need new electrical work require an inspection by the city.
If the planning commission recommends the revised code, it will go before the council for final approval.
The commission will meet at 7 p.m. at the city council chambers in city hall, 500 S.W. Dorion Ave.