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Clackamas County moves toward marijuana tax

Commissioners OK step after beefing up zoning enforcement.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County will ask voters in November to approve a tax on marijuana sales.Clackamas County voters will be asked to approve a 3 percent local tax on retail sales of marijuana for recreational use.

County commissioners started the process of referring the tax to the Nov. 8 ballot Tuesday, after they approved several steps to beef up enforcement against marijuana-related violations of zoning and development regulations.

“This commission has said we want teeth in this, so let’s put some teeth into it,” Commissioner Tootie Smith said.

According to a staff report, the county had 20 zoning cases as of May 4; 12 are pending, five are verified, two are near resolution and one has been resolved.

Commissioners adopted broader changes in the zoning and development ordinance, covering both medical and recreational marijuana, which took effect at the start of this year. They had asked the planning staff and county lawyers for ways to step up enforcement.

The zoning code sets out where growing and processing can occur outside city limits, and requirements for setbacks, lighting, and noise and odor control.

The proposed 3 percent local tax will be on top of a 17 percent state tax already approved by the Legislature. If county voters approve the local tax, both would take effect Jan. 1 and replace a 25 percent temporary tax on recreational-use sales by medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Counties and cities can impose a 3 percent tax if voters approve it.

Commissioners have yet to discuss how to spend proceeds from the local tax, although Chairman John Ludlow said likely purposes are for law enforcement and zoning-code enforcement.

Commissioner Jim Bernard said he would like to see some money earmarked for prevention of drug abuse.

That discussion would precede a resolution by the commissioners to refer a local tax to the Nov. 8 ballot.

Clackamas County also would share in proceeds from the state tax, uses for which are specified by the ballot measure that Oregon voters approved in 2014 when they legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Of the state proceeds, 10 percent will go to cities and 10 percent will go to counties for law enforcement. However, counties and cities that opt out of retail marijuana sales will not share any money.

Seven Clackamas County cities — Gladstone, Happy Valley, Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Sandy, West Linn and Wilsonville — have chosen to opt out, although their decisions are subject to voter approval on Nov. 8. (Damascus also opted out, but there will be no election there, because voters disincorporated the city as of July 18.)

Enforcement action

County commissioners took an initial step toward a local tax after approving several steps toward increasing penalties for marijuana-related zoning violations.

Among them are a maximum civil penalty of $5,000 per day — the current maximum for any zoning violation is $3,500 per day — and separate amounts of $1,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for a second violation, and $10,000 for a third violation. The usual amount for a first violation is $500.

Those changes are likely to require an amendment to the zoning code.

Although marijuana producers and processors must get land-use clearances from counties and cities, licenses are issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for recreational operations and the Oregon Health Authority for medical marijuana operations.

Licenses do not apply to households, which can grow four plants. Medical-marijuana cardholders and caregivers also are subject to different state limits on plants.

“I think we are going to revisit this issue a lot,” Ludlow said.

Among the other steps approved by county commissioners:

• Coordinate with other agencies, including the county sheriff and the Oregon State Police.

• Initiate an investigation by the county’s code enforcement employees upon receipt of one confidential complaint, instead of two complaints.

• Require other county employees to report apparent zoning violations they see as they perform their normal duties, although action would be left to code enforcement.

• Require code enforcement to refer a first-time violator of marijuana-related zoning regulations to the county hearings officer, instead of after a second violation.

• Set a schedule of weekly hearings, instead of twice monthly, so that a hearings officer can take up a violation case sooner. (A 15-day notice remains in place.)

• Make it easier for the county to collect for violations and civil penalties.

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