With new marijuana code, county should target bad behavior, not lawful businesses (Guest Opinion)
By Cedar Grey
Josephine County is experiencing an industry boom, the likes of which have not been seen since the contraction of the timber industry. New businesses are forming, residents are securing living-wage employment, land prices are increasing, ancillary businesses are growing, tax revenue is flowing into county coffers and new law enforcement personnel are being hired. At the same time, our county commissioners are receiving pressure from some residents to restrict this new industry due to neighbor complaints. You may know by now that we're talking about the cannabis industry.
The evolution of cannabis policy represents a significant cultural shift in our county, with some residents reacting with fear and loathing. Other residents experience cannabis as a source of life-giving medicine and family-sustaining income. The commissioners are caught in the crosshairs of this debate, and are feeling pressure to act. They responded by directing the county's planning department to draft amendments to the rural land development code. These amendments propose numerous limitations and restrictions on cannabis production in rural residential zones, some of which would harm, and possibly extinguish, existing legal businesses.
Who will be harmed if these amendments are enacted? State-licensed, regulated, tax-paying farms that have invested heavily after receiving full county approval may be forced to shutter operations. My family's business falls into this category. I'm a sixth generation Oregonian who started a cannabis farming and processing company with my wife in 2014 after Oregon voters approved HB 3460, which regulated cannabis commerce. In 2015, Josephine County published a pamphlet stating that RR5 zoning was appropriate for cannabis production. We took out a family loan and purchased an RR5-zoned commercial hay farm in an agricultural neighborhood in Williams, and we have developed it into a state-licensed cannabis and hemp farm. We are highly regulated, regularly inspected, have very good relationships with our neighbors and employ 30 local residents. The proposed amendments would reduce our cultivated field to 5,000 square feet, one-eighth of our current state-licensed area, which would end our ability to operate profitably. The amendments also propose setbacks, hours of operation and noise restrictions that are unworkable for most farms.
In Josephine County, farming has always been allowed in all zones except commercial. In a victory for common sense, our state Legislature has defined cannabis cultivation as farming. Thus, other than reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, cannabis production is explicitly allowed in rural residential zones in Josephine County. In discussing time, place and manner restrictions, Oregon case law defines reasonable as "directed to the prevention of the evils, and adapted to the accomplishment of the avowed purposes." In the case of cannabis production in rural residential zones, the "evil" consists of negative impacts upon neighbors. However, blanket restrictions on cannabis production fail the test of reason, because they take away the rights of an entire class of lawful businesses and individuals, rather than reasonably targeting the offensive behavior.
Some of the cannabis-growing residents in Josephine County are "bad actors" who have annoyed their neighbors. Some of these bad actors would be annoying their neighbors regardless of whether or not they grew cannabis, and making rules about cannabis will not influence their offensive behavior. Bad actors are generally unconcerned with regulation, and nothing short of active enforcement will change that. Enforcement, beginning with the most offensive illegal grows, would both relieve neighbor complaints and benefit the good actors. The good actors who will heed new regulations already prioritize neighbor relations. Josephine County has a strong tradition of protecting property rights. Licensed, regulated, tax-paying family farms are not the problem and do not deserve to be harmed. There are clear regulatory paths to addressing the offensive issues without punishing the innocent.
Cannabis is the greatest economic opportunity that our county has enjoyed in many decades. We can promote the economic development of Josephine County by supporting regulated business in America's fastest-growing industry. The state is now enacting sweeping regulatory changes that will result in an estimated 75 percent reduction in RR5 medical grow sites in 2018. Rep. Carl Wilson has spent years on the legislative committee wrestling with cannabis regulation. He wisely recommends that Josephine County avoid layering additional regulation over state rules before the state rules are implemented. He deserves our gratitude for discerning that we will then be in a position to evaluate how to effectively address neighbor complaints without sacrificing property rights, family farms and the economic development of Josephine County.
Cedar Grey is the CEO of Siskiyou Sungrown in Williams and is a member of the county's Cannabis Advisory Panel.