By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
A newly formed Josephine County marijuana advisory committee took no firm stand Tuesday on a proposal to ban new marijuana grow sites in rural residential zones.
The nine-member group is expected to take up related issues again Oct. 10, even as the county Board of Commissioners is looking to act quickly, before the spring planting season.
Commissioners have asked members of the group, which has been using the name Cannabis Advisory Board, for suggestions to solve conflicts between growers and neighbors.
The county has received an avalanche of complaints in the last year, but many growers counter that they don't bother the neighbors and have invested in operations that the county thus far has allowed. The county has a rule allowing agriculture in rural residential zones if it doesn't interfere with neighbors.
"We've allowed commercial activity that isn't keeping the peace," county Commissioner Lily Morgan told the panel.
Complaints have mushroomed since Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. Some complaints brought up during Tuesday night's meeting included odors, illegal sales, barking dogs, guns, sewage runoff, illegal water use, illegal campers, noise, water trucks damaging roads and property values.
Katherine Lanspery, a member of the advisory panel, asked for details about those complaints, while fellow panelist Pete Gendron wondered how many complaints came from one source or concerned the same property.
Josephine County is home to more than 3,000 registered medical marijuana grow sites, the second most in Oregon after Jackson County, and more than 100 recreational farms. Most are in rural residential zones.
The county has proposed allowing growers already in place to remain, under a provision informally called grandfathering, although committee member Valerie Montague suggested they be treated as home-based businesses, which currently are allowed by permit and are subject to annual inspections.
"Everything is negotiable," Morgan said.
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposed ban at 2 p.m. Thursday in the board conference room at the courthouse. Last week, after dozens of people testified at a hearing on the ban proposal, commissioners delayed a vote on moving forward on an ordinance allowing the ban.
Morgan, who pushed for creation of the advisory panel, has raised the possibility of treating sites in excess of 13 plants as home businesses, with the county reviewing the operations to ensure they are not neighborhood nuisances. That would avoid the need for an outright ban.
Committee member Gerard Fitzgerald warned, however, about neighborhood conflict if that happens. He worried that complaints could lead to a grower not getting a permit approved.
"You're pitting neighbor against neighbor," he said.
Taking an active role to guide the group's discussion, Morgan also warned that voters might put forth a measure to force the county to ban grows in the residential areas. In May, nearly two-thirds of voters favored a ban.
Morgan repeatedly asked how the commercial activity of growers fits with the purpose of residential zones. Most complaints were coming in from areas that include Merlin, Williams and Cave Junction, she said.
Gendron, who is president of the Oregon SunGrowers Guild, said he considered his 48 medical plants as a garden, and "not a particularly significant impact." A grow site of half an acre or an acre was a farm, however, he said.
Morgan said some growers want regulation and the end to complaints that have tarnished the burgeoning industry's image.
"Help us come up with a regulation that will meet the needs of all the parties," she asked the panel.