By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
The newly formed Josephine County Cannabis Advisory Committee met for the first time Tuesday in an effort to help guide county officials through issues brought on by legalized marijuana.
The nine-member group of diverse interests met at the Josephine County Fairgrounds in front of a few dozen onlookers. They elected former county Undersheriff Don Fasching as chairman and Oregon SunGrowers Guild President Peter Gendron as vice chairman.
A former cop and a marijuana gardener represent just some of the divergent interests of the group, which includes a physician, an environmental specialist, a security company owner and a former county planner, plus several marijuana farmers. They will advise the county Board of Commissioners.
"We're honored you're willing to help us out," Commissioner Lily Morgan told the group, which was formed at her urging.
Morgan said it was unfortunate the group was being formed after the county began a months-long process that could end with a ban on new marijuana farms in rural residential zones.
However, the reason for pushing forward the new rules was to give growers notice of any changes prior to spring planting season.
The advisory group will be able to comment prior to commissioners taking a final vote on a ban. That vote is expected in early October.
Issues up for discussion before the new board include marijuana's impact on culture and land use. Other subjects could include marijuana's impacts on the economy, property rights and youth.
Board member and medical doctor Steve Becker was interested in simply getting good information to the public.
"Misinformation is probably the biggest problem we're going to have," he said.
Gendron said individual freedoms were at stake, while many board members talked about listening to all sides and being fair.
"Extreme stands create inertia," said board member Valerie Montague, a recreational marijuana farmer and former county planner. "What I can do is look at both sides."
Board member Jared Panks, a medical marijuana grower, said he wanted to look out for the little guy, not just those with money.
"I represent Oregonians," he said.
Realtor Gerard Fitzgerald said he expects to protect property rights, while environmental consultant Katherine Lanspery said she wanted to protect the land.
"I'm here for sustainability," she said.
Jeff Thomas, owner of Concierge Home and Business Watch, said public safety was his main concern.
"I don't have a leaning one way or the other except to protect Josephine County," he said.
Fasching said he was looking forward to some open and objective discussion.
"I'm concerned with the county and how it's going to move forward," he said.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung said complaints about the industry continue to flood county offices.
"This is going to be contentious from the word go," he said.
Josephine County is home to nearly 3,100 medical marijuana grow sites — the second most in the state after Jackson County — and more than 100 recreational marijuana farms.
The advisory board is due to meet again Sept. 26 to discuss new state legislation and proposed new county regulations banning new marijuana farms in rural residential zones.
The Board of Commissioners is due to hold a hearing on the new rules Sept. 20.
Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.