By Jeff Thomas
The topic of marijuana and land use in Josephine County has indeed become a very contentious issue as shared in a recent guest opinion in the Daily Courier. For the precious few growers who try to be good neighbors and a productive part of our community, I say, "Thank you."
Unfortunately, that's where my thanks ends. Virtually every day I receive phone calls and emails from friends, neighbors and clients who are distressed by marijuana grows in their neighborhoods and, in many cases, right next door. These truly good neighbors, many who have retired and moved to Josephine County to live out their remaining years in peace and with an improved quality of life, are finding themselves having to cope with the smell, noise, plastic fences and open sewage from fields of "trimmigrants" camping on the grower's property. With each call and complaint, they are feeling less and less safe in their own homes and neighborhoods. Every week, we receive numerous calls from clients who are leaving the state because of grows and the criminal activity associated with them.
A number of transients coming to Grants Pass have stated to our employees that they are here to trim for inflated "under the table" wages. Do all of these transient workers' pay appropriate taxes on their pay? Are they unfairly burdening our resources meant for local disadvantaged community members? How do these people add to the quality of life in Grants Pass and Josephine County?
It is no wonder that in May, 64 percent of participating voters in Josephine County rejected the idea of marijuana grows in the county's rural residential areas. What is more astounding is that it appears our Josephine County commissioners and Rep. Carl Wilson have chosen to ignore the 64 percent in favor of siding with the other 36 percent who grow and produce marijuana in our neighborhoods, and are making unilateral decisions that will impact our daily lives.
Such comments as "We want to make this decision equitable for all concerned" and "Let's see how this all shakes out" ignore the concept that we, the voting majority, have a voice. Since when has "reacting" after the fact ever been more effective than "preventing" a problem at the onset? This, in my opinion, is an unconscionable act on the part of our governing representatives. It's time for them to answer to their voters' concerns. They should not be able to abdicate their responsibilities with impunity.
Let's be fair, the complaints about cannabis growers listed above are not directed at those few who are staying inside the lines of local and state law and contributing to a better lifestyle. Rather, it is the renegades who are interested only in profits, often at the expense of the community and their neighbors. These growers snub the laws of our state and our county, and make threats to government officials and anyone who would dare to oppose the carte blanche reception they are receiving.
Many of us have worked hard to make and keep our community a beautiful, safe, fun recreational area that draws families, employers and tourists. Sadly, we are becoming a haven for transients, trimmigrants, squatters and illegal grows throughout our neighborhoods. We will all pay the price if we don't come together now to make a difference. Tourists will not feel safe to stay and play here, families will not want to raise their kids here, seniors will not want to purchase homes and retire here, and employers won't want to bring their businesses here.
Good neighbors? Perhaps some strive to be, but not enough to give growers a free hand in deciding what our community will become. We will only have one chance to safeguard the culture and sanctity of our community. Squandering this chance is not an option. Those of us who have the most to lose can no longer remain silent and wait in the wings. You want to safeguard your community? Get actively involved in protecting it.
Jeff Thomas is a private security professional and a former law enforcement officer who lives in Grants Pass. He is also a member of the county's Cannabis Advisory Panel.