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County OK's Cannabis Deputy

County OKs cannabis deputy

By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier

Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan says a report that principals at rural high schools are frustrated with a lack of law enforcement helped persuade her to support the use of newly minted marijuana tax revenue to pay for another deputy.

The verbal report, from county juvenile division director Jim Goodwin, helped "sway me," Morgan said at a Board of Commissioners work session Thursday.

Goodwin said principals at the schools were extremely frustrated.

If a student is caught with drugs, the issue is dealt with in the school, instead of as a law enforcement matter, although first-time offenders are offered juvenile department services instead of punishment via the courts. They will have no record if they comply.

Simple possession is a low priority for the short-staffed Sheriff's Office, Goodwin said.

"These principals are at wit's end," he told commissioners.

Commissioner Simon Hare pushed for a deputy to focus primarily on marijuana issues, saying there was a need and an appropriate funding source.

"It seems like there's nobody focused on it," Hare said. "It's out of control."

Goodwin said there's an impact to middle schools, also. He said he "consistently" gets marijuana-related referrals from Grants Pass police involving students 11-13 years old.

Goodwin said the number of marijuana-related referrals jumped from 34 in 2015, the year Oregon's new law legalizing recreational marijuana took effect, to 56 already this year.

He estimated those numbers would double if the Sheriff's Office was making referrals, which it isn't. Measure 91, the law legalizing recreational marijuana, prohibits possession of pot by anyone under the age of 21.

Hare suggested that the funding source to pay for the deputy would be tax revenue that arrived Wednesday: $206,000 in state marijuana tax revenue. Morgan said she would ask schools to contribute also. Schools also receive marijuana tax revenue.

Morgan was concerned with funding a cannabis deputy when the Sheriff's Office doesn't even have a detective division.

"I would love to have a detective division," she said.

In the end, commissioners, including Dan DeYoung, agreed in principle to hire another deputy, who also would serve as a link with state investigators assigned to marijuana issues.

Commissioners agreed that the deputy also would assist county code enforcement personnel deal with land-use violations, including those related to marijuana grow sites. They also agreed in principal to hire another code enforcement officer and an attorney to focus on land-use violations. The county has a backlog of more than 700 open land-use violation cases.

Commissioners had hoped for more marijuana tax revenue than $206,000. Marijuana is taxed by the state at the retail level at 17 percent, and distributed in part to counties based on population.

Commissioners had hoped a newly adopted distribution formula based in part on the amount of marijuana grown commercially would have been used to determine the just-received payment. Future payments will use the new formula.

County Finance Director Arthur O'Hare expects future revenue based on the new formula will bring in $250,000-$350,000 annually.

The county itself also imposes a 3 percent tax on marijuana sales, but that money — an estimated $60,000 annually — is being used for prevention programs.

In a related matter, commissioners are slated to discuss proposed marijuana land-use regulations at 2 p.m. Wednesday during a work session in the board's conference room at the courthouse.

The regulations propose a ban on grow sites on rural residential lots under 5 acres after three years. They also call for annual inspections by a code enforcement officer.

Josephine County has more than 3,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites, the second most in Oregon, and more than 100 commercial farms.

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Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or shall@thedailycourier.com.

Earlier Event: October 11
Morgan questions need for cannabis deputy
Later Event: October 18
OSGG's Annual Trim-a-Thon