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Creswell To Vote On Whether Or Not To Lift Ban On Marijuana Sales

Brian Bull

Last year, Creswell residents voted to ban sales of marijuana.  Now a new ballot initiative backed by investment group One Gro aims to lift that ban.  They say Creswell stands to become a cannabis empire, raising thousands of dollars in annual revenue.  Critics say it’ll not only hurt the character of the city, but also pave the way for a marijuana monopoly.  KLCC’s Brian Bull reports. 

Brian Haynes stands on the porch of his Creswell house, surrounded by ghouls, zombies, and tombstones.  The carpenter and his family love Halloween, if the creepy décor doesn’t make that obvious.  As fearsome as the monsters and bodybags make his home look though, Hayes says it’s still a friendlier climate than that surrounding the debate over Ballot Initiative 20-280.

“Just shy of being hostile sometimes, to the new business wanting to come into town," says Haynes.  "Creswell needs some industry. It’s a up and coming very booming industry right now.  And I think these folks coming into town are just business entrepreneurs who want to stake their claim.” 

While Creswell residents narrowly banned the sale of marijuana last year with a 52 percent majority vote, like Haynes’ zombies, the issue is back from the dead.  A sign supporting the initiative stands out from the fake cemetery in Hayne’s yard.

"The benefits from the new business probably aren’t going to be instantly an overnight," says Haynes.  "But I think that over time, the new money coming in will pay for itself, and maybe we’ll pay for the things like Creswell really needs here, like a 24-hour police department.” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
One Gro CEO Dan Isaacson in his Naked Bean coffee shop in Creswell.

Dan Isaacson is CEO of One Gro, the primary backer of the initiative.  In his coffee shop The Naked Bean, he explains how Creswell stands to benefit.

“If you look behind us, we have an entire area that we call the economic engine of Creswell. It's right by Interstate 5," says Isaacson.

"It's underdeveloped or not developed. And you could very easily turn this into an area where people come and shop and eat and restaurants and get cannabis and whatever else that they needed to do and then go on their way down I-5.

"And all of that tax revenue and jobs could go to the city of Creswell, if we develop it right.” 

At a 3 percent tax, Isaacson figures One Gro could pump $160,000 annually back to the city.  Creswell currently can’t afford 24-hour policing.  Isaacson says that money could be used to hire more deputies in this town of 5400 people.

“Having a THC store, a marijuana store creates traffic," he says.  "It creates a draw on city resources and we think it's a responsible thing to come to the table with a way to help pay for that.” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
One Gro workers trim and clip harvested marijuana plants.

Isaacson takes me to one of his two grows.  This one is east of Cottage Grove, where workers are busy clipping what’s left of this year’s harvest…41,000 marijuana plants.

Isaacson says One Gro employs 65 people, with a $2 million payroll.  He takes issue with how One Gro’s been characterized by critics.  Some point out founder and attorney Mike Arnold briefly defended Malheur occupier Ammon Bundy.  Recent news reports also touched on a couple employees with criminal records.

“If you have experience in this industry, it's because you've been doing it for a very large part of your life illegally so you have a skill set that is marketable," he says. 

"I'd rather them play for our team under very strict rules, very strict guidelines, very watched closely as opposed to them working for the cartel or working for the black market.  Because they're going to play for somebody's team. I'd rather them play for ours.” 

"Creswell’s doing just fine without One Gro,” says Kevin Prociw.  He represents two political action groups opposed to Ballot Initiative 20-280, No To One Gro and Keep It Creswell.  They’ve held two protests and may stage another before Election Day.  

Credit Kevin Prociw
Kevin Prociw, who's heading two political action groups opposed to Ballot 20-280.

One of Prociw’s greatest concerns is over the ballot language, which lays out various buffer zones and restrictions.  He says One Gro would have the most commercially viable spot in town should voters pass the initiative.

“What Mr. Isaacson would point out is that there are other places in Creswell where people could put in a potential dispensary," Prociw tells KLCC.  "But the issue is, is those are on the edge of town, where nobody would get any sort of traffic.  So really it becomes an effective monopoly.  And that’s not the kind of thing that Creswell wants.” 

Other opponents don’t like the prospect of increased One Gro operations in their city.  Ellie Vaughn is a daycare provider who worries over its plans for a dispensary and processing facilities.

“The smell would be horrendous, it’d would bring a lot of crime in," says Vaughn.  "And so since my whole life have been around children, I just feel about the elements that it’d have for the kids here and I do not think that it would be a positive one.” 

And Prociw adds he and others aren’t against retail marijuana in town necessarily.  He’s open to revisiting the issue after the November election.

“We’ve been having conversations like that, because we think that after the election is over and we’ve won, that we need to – as a community -- start engaging on conversation on what a successful initiative would look like," says Prociw.  

"This gives us a chance to really look at the city landscape, and try to find something that’ll work, that maybe a couple dispensaries could come in.” 

Meanwhile, Creswell Mayor Dave Stram says he’s not seen such spirited activity in his 35 years here.  He says he’s seen only a couple signs supporting the ballot initiative around town, compared to those opposing it. 

“So if you gauge from that, you’d say, “Wow…the whole community’s opposed to this initiative,'” says Mayor Stram.  "But a year ago, there were a thousand people who voted for marijuana, so…I’m not totally sure.  I wouldn’t want to place a bet on this.” 

Voters will decide the matter November 7th.  One Gro says either way, they’re not going anywhere.  They have other venues to pursue in seven states, including the rest of Oregon. 

Copyright 2017, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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