The Josephine County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to new regulations that would ban newly defined "commercial marijuana farms" on lots of 5 acres or less in rural residential zones.
Current operations may continue for only two years on those lots. Growers are certain to object. The new regulations are not set in stone, pending several public hearings. The first is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Under the proposed regulations, commercial marijuana farms are defined as those containing more than 12 marijuana plants. The definition is based on the number of plants and makes no distinction between growers for the medical marijuana market and the recreational market.
The commissioners are turning up the regulatory heat as county officials grapple with an explosion in grow sites and farms, along with a corresponding increase in complaints, since Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
Josephine County is home to more than 3,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites, the second most in the state after Jackson County, and more than 100 recreational farms. Most are in rural residential zones.
Commissioners, acting during a work session, made allowances for larger lots.
They agreed that commercial marijuana farms on lots of more than 5 acres in residential zones would be limited in the size of the area set aside for growing. For outdoor grow sites, that area would be 5,000 square feet, or roughly the size of a basketball court.
Those areas must be set back from property lines, too: 100 feet for indoor grow operations and 150 for outdoor operations.
The proposals likely will be opposed by many growers, many of whom have invested heavily in upgrades to their property. County Community Development Director Julie Schmelzer said state-licensed commercial growers were warned in writing before they started that changes could come.
A public hearing on the regulations is set for Nov. 1, with a second hearing to follow, probably after Thanksgiving.
For more than a year, county officials have considered marijuana land use regulations, and have adopted some, including rules related to fencing and nighttime lighting that take effect in a few weeks.
That stance came after a May advisory vote supported a ban commercial marijuana operations in residential zones by a 2-to-1 margin. And for the last few months, the county has wrestled with how to implement such a ban.
Commissioners initially proposed a "grandfather clause" that allowed existing farms and grow sites to continue, but on Thursday they closed that concession.
Acting on the premise that commercial operations don't belong in residential zones, the county's new Cannabis Advisory Panel has suggested that operations be treated as a home occupation allowed by permit.
Commissioners are essentially taking that route on residential lots larger than 5 acres, by requiring a development permit and an annual compliance certificate granted after an inspection.
Commissioners likely will discuss ways that growers can obtain exceptions to the regulations by obtaining a variance, but no date for that discussion has been set. Commissioner Lily Morgan asked that consideration be given to state-licensed recreational growers who have been following relatively strict rules and who are not interfering with neighbors.
Commissioners hammered out the proposals during a two-hour session in their conference room. Growers and neighbors were in attendance.
"They're working in the right direction," medical marijuana grower Dan Loughran of Williams said afterward. "They're listening."
Loughran felt the setbacks were too restrictive, however.
Commercial grower Cody Seiler spoke with DeYoung after the meeting, asking about an exception to the rules. Seiler said the new rules would limit the size of his operation, cutting into profits.
"You're lengthening my time to break even," he said.