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Damascus open for marijuana without a comprehensive plan

Editor's note: In this column, Damascus City Councilor Jim De Young makes a statement that legislation proposed by Rep. Shemia Fagan would enable property owners "to withdraw from the city at the sole discretion of the mayor." That is a point of contention. In an interview with Outlook Reporter Jodi Weinberger, Fagan said her legislation does not provide the mayor with that authority.

De Young also says that without the comp plan and development code regulations, regulations in Damascus, our city is putting out a “welcome mat” to the marijuana industry. Agricultural land may be used to grow marijuana; fruit and vegetable stands may sell it; and dispensaries and retail stores may begin selling it anywhere in our three commercial areas.

Do you know that Damascus has laid out a welcome mat to marijuana? We are the only city in Oregon that does not have a comprehensive plan with its accompanying development code.

Why don’t we have a comp plan? For two years powerful, wealthy property owners along Highways 212 and 224 have used their money and influence to incite many citizens to vote “no” on all comprehensive plans.

They are trying to end the City.

James De YoungIn the Legislature their attorneys helped craft legislation (HB4029) to allow them to withdraw their property to the benefit of Happy Valley and thus shrink the western border.

They helped fund the disincorporation effort at the ballot box (November 2013) and in the courts. While these efforts have failed in the courts, three new bills tendered by Rep. Shemia Fagan both revise HB4029 to give the Damascus mayor new authority, and reduce the super majority vote required for disincorporation to a simple majority in the next general election.

What does marijuana have to do with the comprehensive plan?

Every city’s comprehensive plan contains a development code that regulates commercial properties, agriculture, housing and all other zoning. Right now all other cities except Damascus are formulating codes to regulate marijuana dispensaries to meet a May deadline.

Last October Damascus’ staff drafted a code to regulate marijuana as part of the Mayor’s Comprehensive Plan. But the council then and now has not adopted such a code.

And because the people rejected the comp plan on last November’s ballot, any code that could be modified to regulate marijuana went down also.

More distressing news.

Beginning in July, recreational marijuana becomes legal for adults 21 and older. Then in 2016 retail stores can apply to the state to sell it. Unless regulations come to Damascus, our city is putting out a welcome mat to the marijuana industry. Agricultural lands could grow marijuana; fruit and vegetable stands could sell it; and dispensaries and retail stores could begin selling it anywhere in our three commercial areas.

Neither Damascus nor the state issues business licenses. So Safeway, Bi-Mart and other stores in Damascus or Carver could have a new potential money maker. Presently, the state’s only regulation prohibits medical marijuana within a 1,000 feet of a school. The League of Oregon Cities wants the Legislature to empower cities to increase regulations.

Damascus is more open for business — the marijuana business — than any other city in the state because only Damascus lacks a comp plan.

We can thank all the people who continue to urge a “no” vote on all comprehensive plans and the development codes in them, thinking it doesn’t matter.

Their indifference has left the city and our children vulnerable to marijuana. We need codes to prevent our children from being exposed to marijuana distribution in our parks, and to regulate whether our neighbors become growers, processors or sellers. Already people are calling City Hall seeking to take advantage of Damascus’ open policy.

How can we redeem this situation?

The first step is to vote “yes” on ballot measure 3-465 on March 10 to send a comprehensive plan to the state. This will send a message to the marijuana industry that we have a development code and will add regulations about marijuana just like every other city in Oregon. A vote for the comprehensive plan is a vote to regulate marijuana.

James De Young is a member of the Damascus City Council.

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