A petition to allow recreational marijuana businesses to operate in Grant County nearly didn’t make it to the ballot for this May.
Haley Olson, who had spearheaded the signature gathering, showed up at the Grant County Clerk’s office with four or five minutes to spare, her mother Cindy Kidd said.
“If she had tripped on the courthouse steps, she wouldn’t have made it,” Kidd said.
To qualify for the ballot, Olson needed to collect signatures from at least 196 active registered voters — 6 percent of the number of voters in the 2014 gubernatorial election, according to Grant County Clerk Brenda Percy.
Olson had only two weeks from the time the public challenge period ended for the wording of the petition to the time the petitions needed to be filed with the county clerk. She submitted 293 signatures and 222 were accepted, Percy said.
The measure seeks to overturn Grant County Ordinance 2015-01 and allow licensed recreational marijuana producers, processors, dispensaries, wholesalers, labs and research facilities to operate in Grant County. The county would receive tax revenues from these activities, the measure states.
Grant County banned all marijuana businesses in 2015. Attorney Rob Raschio filed a complaint challenging the county ordinance on Dec. 8 on behalf of two people who wanted to grow marijuana for sale and a person who used marijuana for medical purposes.
The complaint was withdrawn in January 2016, and petitioners organized to put a measure on the May 2016 primary to overturn the ban. Grant County voters turned down the ballot initiative by 1,689 to 1,469, with 71 percent of the county’s 4,640 registered voters casting ballots.
In September 2016, the county court amended Ordinance 2015-01 to allow patients to purchase medical marijuana at dispensaries in Grant County. Olson and Kidd work at the only dispensary in the county, Rocky Mountain Dispensary, just west of the John Day city limits.
The amended ordinance only allows medical marijuana businesses in the county, not recreational marijuana businesses. If this ballot initiative passes, Kidd said, her company plans to sell recreational marijuana in the same dispensary where medical marijuana is sold, and they’d like to expand into processing.
Ballot Measure 91, which allows recreational marijuana uses and businesses under Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulation, was approved by Oregon voters by 56 percent to 44 percent in 2014.
Under the law, adults 21 years and older can carry up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use, keep up to eight ounces in their home and grow up to four plants per household.
According to state law, a 17 percent base tax on recreational marijuana sales is collected by the state. The tax is collected on the retail sale of leaves, flowers and immature plants; edibles, concentrates and extracts; products used on the skin or hair; and other cannabinoid products.
The revenue is distributed by the state, with 40 percent going to the Common School fund, 20 percent to Mental Health Alcoholism and Drug Services, 15 percent to Oregon State Police, 10 percent to cities for enforcement of the law, 10 percent to counties for enforcement of the law and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs. Only cities and counties that allow marijuana businesses receive the tax revenue.
Cities and counties with recreational marijuana sales can also tack on another tax of up to 3 percent by referring the ordinance to local voters at the next statewide election. The local governments can use the revenue as they see fit. Forecasting recreational marijuana sales, however, is not easy.
Pendleton City Manager Robb Corbett reported Feb. 27 that his city projects $203,367 in revenue this year from taxes on the sale of recreational marijuana. Pendleton’s population is 16,834, more than double the 7,186 people in Grant County, according to 2016 figures.
Corbett told his city council that he suspected other Eastern Oregon cities might change their mind about allowing recreational marijuana sales once they learn about the amount of money that could be made.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers said he had no way to forecast recreational marijuana sales in the county if the ballot measure passes. If it did pass, he said, he’d like to see a 3 percent county tax imposed and use the money to help offset any legal costs resulting from passage of the measure.
Olson told the Eagle she spoke to an analyst in Salem to estimate how much revenue would go to Grant County. With one dispensary, two processors and four growers, the estimate was $30,000 per quarter, she said.
Myers noted that recreational marijuana businesses in Grant County would only be allowed outside of cities, which passed their own ordinances to ban marijuana businesses.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will not license recreational marijuana businesses located in a primary residence, and it requires a land-use compatibility statement from local jurisdictions before licensing a new business at a particular site.
Cities and counties can regulate how recreational marijuana businesses operate through their zoning ordinances. Both Myers and Grant County Assistant Planner Shannon Springer, however, said it was too early to suggest what Grant County would do about siting the new businesses.
Kidd said numerous people came forward to help gather signatures for the petition.
“It was a group effort,” she said.
Next up is a concerted campaign, with painted 4-by-8 boards, Kidd said.
“We’d like to hold a public meeting where people can ask questions,” she said.