County considers using pot tax revenue to pay for pot patrol
By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
The Josephine County Board of Commissioners is considering using marijuana tax revenue to pay for a three-person pot patrol.
The proposed new hires — a deputy, a land-use attorney and an additional code enforcement officer — would help enforce land-use laws as they apply to the county's fast-evolving marijuana industry.
Since the summer of 2016, the county's Community Development Department has received more than 1,000 marijuana-related land-use complaints that its director considers valid, plus the department also has a backlog of an additional estimated 700 open land-use cases that might or might not involve marijuana.
In addition, Sheriff Dave Daniel has expressed repeated concerns about marijuana and crime, saying in particular that the industry has attracted bad actors to the county.
Lack of money and politics have kept the county from effectively tackling its land-use violations backlog, but state and local marijuana retail tax revenue that could reach more than $400,000 a year likely would help offset that.
The revenue would come in part from an estimated $60,000 a year from a 3 percent county tax on marijuana sales coupled with an estimated $250,000-$350,000 yearly expected from state marijuana sales tax revenue.
Planning department revenue also likely would help pay for new hires.
The county's toothless code enforcement regime is causing much of the heartburn. Voters in 2013 rejected a series of so-called nuisance ordinances that would have given the county regulatory power like most counties in Oregon to issue citations, rather than having to resort to the expense of going to court.
The subsequent passage of Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana and a corresponding explosion in medical grows, vastly changed the landscape.
Commissioners are expected to discuss marijuana-related matters during a work session set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the board's conference room at the courthouse.
In related news:
• Commissioner Dan DeYoung is formally suggesting that commercial marijuana grow sites undergo annual inspections in order to stay legal. He defined commercial as more than six marijuana plants.
• DeYoung also said he would consider putting a time limit of a few years on how long current marijuana grow sites were allowed in rural residential zones. Hare has suggested time limits, too.
That's a big change from rules proposed by the county Planning Commission, which previously recommended existing grow sites and farms be grandfathered in.
• County Community Development Director Julie Schmelzer has received board approval to draft new rules related to a growing number of recreational vehicles and outbuildings used as auxiliary homes on properties and at marijuana grow sites.
In a May advisory vote, a ban on commercial growing operations in rural residential zones was approved by a 2-to-1 margin. Commissioners then asked for rules banning new marijuana grow sites in rural residential zones, while allowing current lawful operations to continue, subject to annual inspections.
The county's actions are being pursued even under the threat of being sued. In a Sept. 6 letter from the Portland law firm of Day Law & Associations, the county was warned it faced "substantial civil liability" if it did not allow current grow sites to continue.
County Counsel Wally Hicks said he has advised the board about the issue, which revolves around the legal concept of whether the new county rules would constitute "a taking."
Hicks countered that the concept was more complicated than someone saying, "I was doing something before the change and now I can't.
"The courts want to know a lot more information before calling it a taking."