Commissioners should act on marijuana — but now is not the time
The Josephine County Board of Commissioners is contemplating a decision that could shake the resurgent local economy to its core.
Tomorrow, the board will preside over the first reading of a bevy of proposed changes to land use code that is aimed squarely at marijuana growers who farm on property that is zoned Rural Residential.
The county has received hundreds upon hundreds of complaints about marijuana growers that cover a broad range of legitimate issues. Concerns about water use, wafting odors, noise, transient workers and criminal activity certainly need to be addressed. The industry unfortunately attracts an unsavory element that the county sheriff says has caused an increase in crime.
Current growers who meet all current code requirements would have the opportunity to be grandfathered in and keep growing, but any change in property ownership would effectively end marijuana growing on most parcels. Although the proposed code revisions would not outright ban future marijuana growing on Rural Residential land, it would for the most part be legislated out of existence. For example, one of the proposed code changes would require a 300-foot setback for marijuana grows from the "front, side and rear" property lines. A rectangular 5-acre parcel is 660 feet by 330 feet, making the setback requirement impossible to meet.
Should the commissioners act on these issues? Yes. But now, at this point in the evolution of this very fledgling industry, is not the right time.
The Oregon Legislature reshaped the state's marijuana landscape over the summer with multiple new laws. Medical growers have in the past enjoyed loose regulation under the Oregon Health Authority compared to recreational growers, who are licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. That oversight is in the process of tightening, with medical growers required to choose by Dec. 1 whether they will seek OLCC licenses or remain with the OHA. If they choose the latter, they still must register their plants with the state's Cannabis Tracking System. The only exception to plant registration is a two-part requirement: The grower must be a patient growing for personal use, and there must be no more than 12 mature plants and 24 immature plants at the grow site.
Another change for the better: The OLCC announced last week that it was opening an office in Medford devoted to marijuana enforcement. That move is significant, exhibiting a commitment by the state to have field officers where outdoor marijuana farms are most prevalent in Southern Oregon — Jackson and Josephine counties.
Republican Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass recently served as co-vice chair of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation. One week ago, he wrote a letter to Commissioners Dan DeYoung, Lily Morgan and Simon Hare.
"I know the board faces pressure to do something," Wilson wrote. "I would simply encourage caution before wading too deeply into new time, place, or manner restrictions when it comes to the nascent adult use cannabis industry. There is an absolute whirlwind of change already occurring and about to occur in the entire sector. I feel that a number of the proposed changes to the planning code are premature at best, given the state of the industry. At this point, we don't even know who will remain in production at the end of this growing season, due to massive alterations made to the (medical marijuana program) by the Oregon Legislature."
Wilson's point is valid. A six-month or one-year wait to see whether new laws and new enforcement capabilities have a positive effect on local marijuana operations is not an unreasonable request. If there is no improvement, move forward with the code changes.