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Planning board: Don't over-regulate dispensaries

The Jackson County Planning Commission is recommending the county stick with 1,000-foot buffers between medical marijuana dispensaries in most cases rather than imposing regulations that would be more strict than state law.

County planning staff had recommended 2,500-foot buffers between dispensaries. State law requires 1,000-foot buffers.

The commission did recommend a three-quarter-mile buffer around the Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics at 8495 Crater Lake Highway. The facility has a drug- and alcohol-free residential treatment center serving more than 1,000 veterans with addiction problems each year. Veterans are also seen on an outpatient basis.

SORCC had asked for a one-mile buffer from dispensaries, but commissioners decided on the compromise of three-quarter-mile, which is just under 4,000 feet.

Planning Commissioner Don Greene said veterans trying to overcome addiction at the center will be helped by a buffer separating them from the marijuana at dispensaries.

"It has to be avoided for treatment to work," Greene said.

The commission's recommendations, developed during a Thursday hearing, will go to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, which ultimately will decide whether the county adopts rules more strict than state law. The county cannot adopt laws that are less strict.

Commissioners are recommending dispensaries be allowed to operate seven days a week. Planning staff members had recommended Sunday closures.

Commissioners said they generally wanted to avoid imposing regulations more strict than state laws to keep county and state laws consistent, and to let free market forces prevail.

Commissioners agreed with planning staff to recommend dispensaries be confined to general commercial zones. Off-limits zones would include industrial, exclusive farm use and commercial I-5 interchange land.

The state does not allow drive-thru dispensaries.

Residents interested in the medical marijuana industry said they appreciated the Planning Commission's relatively hands-off approach.

"They deliberated well. I like that they're going with what the state has set forth," said David Bryant, who hopes to open Pharm to Table medical marijuana dispensary at 3528 S. Pacific Highway between Medford and Phoenix when a county ban on dispensaries is lifted on May 1.

"There's no reason to be more restrictive," said his business partner, Jason Rott.

County regulations will apply to unincorporated parts of Jackson County. Many cities are adopting their own regulations. Medical marijuana dispensaries are now allowed under state law; retail outlets for recreational marijuana will not be allowed until 2016.

Lauren Kelley, who sells medicinal salves with marijuana concentrates, said she also appreciated the commission's stance.

"I was very pleased with what they said. There's so much to learn before making these decisions," she said. "They considered both sides."

At an earlier hearing, planning commissioners listened to more than four hours of public testimony on both sides of the issue. They frequently asked speakers to tell them insider details about the marijuana industry.

At both hearings, there was a generational divide between the older commissioners, who are experienced in land-use issues, and many of the marijuana industry hopefuls in their 20s and 30s. Planning Commissioner Joel Ockunzzi said he had to download an app to his smartphone that explained the vast array of marijuana products that can be produced.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.