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Deschutes County blocks pot facility over partners’ arrests

July 20, 2019

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Deschutes County has decided to block a proposed marijuana growing and processing facility after learning that two of the people involved in the plans were recently arrested.

The Bulletin newspaper of Bend reports that a neighbor of the facility in Alfalfa, east of Bend, challenged it over concerns with the credibility of those involved with the company that proposed it, High Desert Agriculture.

One original member of the company, Sam Onat, 51, was arrested in February in connection with what police described as an illegal, 2,000-plant marijuana operation in La Pine. He faces charges that include pot growing and money laundering and is due to be arraigned next month.

County commissioners were prepared to wait and see how his case played out, but then they learned that another partner, Onat’s son, Jacob Onat, 23, was arrested in May. Jacob Onat, who runs a licensed marijuana dispensary in Bend, has not been charged and told The Associated Press on Saturday he had done nothing wrong.

Commissioners unanimously voted to deny permission for the facility last week over public safety concerns.

“It may be found these people are not guilty . but it doesn’t look that way at this point,” said Commissioner Phil Henderson in a meeting Wednesday. “I’m not inclined to approve this application because of these partnerships.”

California resident Mark Weisheit, who filed the land-use application for the facility, has worked with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to remove Sam Onat from the facility’s license. He wrote a letter to the county commission with his partner, Elizabeth Weisheit, saying they never expected Onat to be “caught up in such a potentially sordid affair,” but stressed that neither the father nor son had been convicted.

“We completely understand the concern about the ‘La Pine incident,’ as we are alarmed ourselves, to say the least,” the Weisheits wrote. “However, we also believe that people in this country are innocent until proven guilty, and our partners have not yet had a chance to defend themselves. As such, we feel any judgment based on their arrests and charges alone are premature, unfair, and un-American.”

It was not immediately clear if the Weisheits intended to appeal the decision.

Jacob Onat said in a phone interview that he has been largely estranged from his father the past two years. The operation for which his father was arrested was a hemp business for which he had sought a license, he said.

In a news release after the raid, investigators with Central Oregon Drug Enforcement said they found 350 pounds of dried marijuana and a “substantial amount of currency.”

Jacob Onat said it appears that police believe he had obtained marijuana from his father’s operation to sell in his licensed dispensary, which would be illegal, but it never happened.

“What they told me is they thought product was going from there to my store,” he said. “They cited some text messages between me and a friend. Well, I own a dispensary. We talk about weed. We schedule inventory for the store.”

Further, Onat said, it was inappropriate for the county commission to deny the application based on arrests or charges that have not been resolved.

“This is a land-use application,” he said. “This is not a judicial process.”

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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com

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