By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
After an exhaustive series of town halls, hearings and workshops, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday finally decided to ... put off deliberations on new marijuana regulations another week.
"You gotta get it right," board Chairman Simon Hare said of the delay.
So, despite another marathon four-hour hearing in front of another packed house at the Basker Auditorium, the board, with Hare abstaining and Commissioner Lily Morgan seeking more answers to more questions, voted to talk it over some more.
Morgan wants more discussion about what would qualify for an exception to the new rules, which will effectively ban marijuana growing on lots of 5 acres or less in rural residential zones and place new restrictions on rural residential lots larger than 5 acres.
Morgan also wanted to talk about allowable noise levels and allowable nighttime activities at marijuana grow sites. And she has concerns about state certification of security guards at marijuana grow sites.
"We've all been wrestling with this," Morgan said near the close of the proceedings. "Every single day this has been in my mind."
She said her stomach was in knots the night before.
Morgan said the stakes were high for growers as well as neighbors who complain about them: both have invested heavily — one in their businesses and the other in their homes. Both sides claim infringements on their property rights.
"This is my land and I want you to leave it alone," one man told the board.
"You don't have enough regulations and they aren't strict enough," another countered.
Growers have threatened to sue, but one upset neighbor asked who was going to compensate him for his loss of property value due to nearby marijuana grow sites.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung kept count and said 22 speakers on Wednesday were for and 22 were against the regulations. That reflects the breakdown locally in 2014, when Measure 91 legalizing recreational marijuana failed by two votes in the county but passed statewide.
It does not reflect, however, the breakdown in May of this year, when 64 percent of county voters favored a ban on all commercial marijuana farming in rural residential areas. The new rules define commercial farming as any operation, including medical, with 13 or more mature marijuana plants.
DeYoung reluctantly agreed to the delay, saying he was looking forward to another week of "non-stop" talk about the issue. He said growers affected by the new rules could ask for an exception to the regulations, and that growers operating lawfully should be able to continue.
"There is a pathway provided," he said. "You shouldn't worry."
Hare abstained from voting because his family owns land restricted to farming that could become more valuable if the county's rules are enacted to restrict growing in rural residential zones. Marijuana farming is allowed in exclusive farm use zones.
There are more than 3,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites and more than 100 commercial marijuana farms in the county. The number of grow sites has increased since legalization three years ago, and neighbors have been increasingly vocal about the negative results, including smell, ugly fences and illegal camping.
Growers, meanwhile, point to economic benefits of the industry and the drug's medicinal qualities. A recent survey by the Grants Pass & Josephine County Chamber of Commerce found the business community almost evenly split on whether the marijuana industry is helping or hurting the local economy.
Discussions about regulations began the summer of 2016, when then-commissioners Cherryl Walker and Keith Heck began holding town halls around the county, after complaints to their office became a daily occurrence.
Hearings were held starting last fall, but action was delayed until Walker and Heck left office and Morgan and DeYoung replaced them in January.
Thereafter, a marijuana advisory panel was seated and more hearings were held, particularly after the May advisory vote showed two-thirds of county voters in favor of a ban in rural residential zones.
If the board changes the proposals much in the next week, still more hearings might be needed. Otherwise, if changes are slight, commissioners could vote next week.
Main provisions of the new rules call for a ban on marijuana farming on lots 5 acres and smaller in rural residential zones, and restrictions on the size of farms located on lots larger than 5 acres in rural residential zones.
An estimated 15 commercial marijuana farms and an unknown number of medical marijuana growers now operate in rural residential zones on lots 5 acres and smaller. The county is home to more than 100 commercial marijuana farms and more than 3,000 medical marijuana grow sites.
Reach Daily Courier reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.