2019 Marijuana and Hemp Code Update Process

Benton County’s planning staff received direction from the Board of County Commissioners on September 4, 2018 to revise the Benton County Development Code (code) for recreational and medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

Note: Resource zones include Exclusive Farm Use, Multi-purpose Ag, and Forest Conservation. Residential zones are Rural Residential, Urban Residential, Village Residential, and Floodplain Agriculture.  Zones = zoning districts.

The impetus for starting this revision process again were complaints received by planning staff about off-site impacts from medical marijuana grow sites.  The issues received by the County are summarized as follows: 

  • Smell and noise intrusion to property owners near grow sites;
  • Traffic issues when primary access to the site is a shared driveway or a private road that runs through a neighborhood, or is within several hundred feet of a dwelling;
  • Unshielded lighting annoying property owners near grow sites;
  • Greenhouses built without permits;
  • Real and perceived improper water usage; and
  • Frequent on-site customer visits.

Based on community feedback since 2016, smell and noise have been the most intrusive to property owners near grow sites. Complaints have been lodged against medical grow sites located in the Rural Residential zone. Complaints have also been received regarding recreational grow sites, primarily when access to the site is a shared driveway or private road or through a neighborhood, or the site is within several hundred feet of a dwelling.

A related topic that has been raised by community members is hemp production. Industrial hemp was legalized at the federal level through the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113. Hemp is considered an agricultural crop and it is currently allowed by the County in any zone that allows farm use, which includes residential zones. The issues raised by community members in regards to hemp grow sites are similar to those of marijuana. Unlike recreational and medical marijuana, hemp is protected by right-to-farm laws (i.e. cannot be subject to time, place and manner regulations) when grown on land zoned Exclusive Farm Use; however, it can be prohibited and regulated by the County in all other zones.

For a quick review of the proposed changes for marijuana and hemp production, please review this table: Comparison Table of Existing and Proposed Production Regulations by Zone

AN OUTLINE OF THE PROCESS

Staff went to the Board of County Commissioners on September 4, 2018, outlined the issues, outlined the proposed process, and requested the Board’s approval to move forward.  The Board granted approval to move forward.

March 2019

Staff utilized allocated funds to hire a consultant to help perform public outreach. The consultant group is Triangle Associates and the facilitator/mediator tasked to help the County is Annie Kilburg. The contract with Triangle Associates was finalized in March 2019.     

April 2019

Annie and planning staff worked together on recruiting a group of citizens to populate a Working Group. The Working Group was an advisory group to staff, not a decision-making body. All volunteer members of the Working Group were involved in making recommendations. The objectives for convening the Working Group included providing a forum for:

  • A critical review of the first draft of a code amendment to revise requirements for marijuana and hemp grow and processing sites.
  • Sharing relevant information to other group members and staff on ways to reasonably mitigate the impacts of marijuana and hemp businesses.
  • Evaluating draft code amendments and striving to come to a consensus opinion on the new language – if it should be rewritten or remain as written.
  • Providing meaningful input on the code amendment revisions.
  • Relationship building, direct communication, and opportunities for coordination and collaboration among members.

During this month, staff also worked on drafting revisions to sections of the sections of the code dealing with marijuana and hemp that would allow for the reduction of off-site impacts while still providing opportunities for grow sites and processing facilities to co-exist with other uses in the County.  

May 2019

The first two Working Group sessions took place in May.  The members of the Working Group were representational of different viewpoints with interest in marijuana and hemp businesses and regulation. The Working Group included two county planners plus seats for members from the following interest groups (in alphabetical order): 

  • Alsea Citizen Advisory Committee Member
  • Benton County Health Department Policy Specialist and an Economic Development Officer
  • Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Rural farm advocate
  • Farm lessor
  • Neighbors (e.g., from Philomath, Corvallis/Central, and North Benton)
  • Processor
  • Producer(s) (e.g., recreational marijuana, hemp, and medical marijuana) 

Minutes were kept of the meetings.  Click on the links to access these minutes: May 15th minutes and May 22nd minutes.

June 2019

The next two Working Group sessions took place during June. Minutes were kept of the meetings.  Click on the links to access these minutes: June 5th minutes and June 19th minutes.  The June 19th meeting was the last Working Group session.

July – August 2019

Staff worked on revisions to the draft code amendments based on the Working Group input. The draft version of the County Code amendment will be placed on-line for public comment for one month beginning in September.

September 2019

The public can use the on-line system to make comments in the revised documents.  After one month, staff will work on revisions to the draft code amendments based on public comments received through the on-line commenting system.

October 2019

A public workshop took place on October 9, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Sunset Building at 4077 Research Way, Corvallis.  At this workshop, staff presented the proposed amendments to the code, answered questions, and accepted further comments and recommendations from the public.  Approximately 80 people attended the workshop.  Minutes from the meeting will be posted soon.