By Charles Brooks
There is a contentious debate going on in Josephine County. Although it's not Hatfields vs. the McCoys, the question of whether or not to embrace the marijuana industry is divisive. I am now part of this industry, and I would like to share my story.
I moved to Grants Pass 25 years ago from Southern California for the sole purpose of becoming a farmer and stewarding a piece of land.
My wife and I researched many areas of the country and chose Josephine County for three reasons: Oregon's attitude toward cottage industry, Josephine County's zoning laws regarding farming for profit on small rural residential acreage, and access to agricultural irrigation water through the Grants Pass Irrigation District.
I have farmed on my 4.78-acre rural residential land off and on since I moved here. The first thing I built on my land was a commercial greenhouse, followed by a home that my wife and I built with our own hands. We have grown nursery plants, produce and vegetable starts for local growers' markets, gourmet garlic, Comice pears and strawberries. In 2015, we were given the first land use compatibility statement in Josephine County and subsequently received the first license to grow recreational marijuana in Oregon.
The decision to grow cannabis was difficult. With many years of experience as a small-scale farmer and 30 years of experience as a licensed landscape designer and contractor, I felt confident of my ability to grow a commercial crop. However, I was very ignorant about "weed" and the culture surrounding it.
>It was also daunting to start over and begin a new career late in life.
In February 2009, the Great Recession hit my landscape business and Southern Oregon like an asteroid. I went from having eight employees to two. Work was hard to find, and the depressed economy, if you remember, lasted a very long time. I went from being debt-free to remortgaging my home. My savings were wiped out. Many of you know someone that was affected by the severe downturn.
There were very few options available to my wife and I during those rough times. We did not want to move away from the land we had put so much sweat into. We rode the bad times out.
After successfully completing our first growing and selling cycle and now getting ready to harvest our second crop, we are faced with yet another obstacle: The planning commission's decision to effectively ban growing marijuana on rural residential land. The issue being, that although the commission has indicated that it would make my operation legally non-conforming (grandfathered), it is also requesting that the land not be allowed to be transferred to another owner as a cannabis farm. This part of the decision is unusual if not unprecedented in land use laws across the country.
Typically, a property that becomes legally non-conforming can be transferred as it is currently being used. This decision would prevent me from selling my property as a marijuana farm at some point in the future and recouping my substantial investment in the land. I have promised a college education to my deserving daughter, and I am a senior now and will need a retirement fund.
I am regularly inspected and vetted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Department of Agriculture, my bank and insurance provider, Certified Kind (organic growing practices) as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. I welcome any inspection that the county commissioners deem necessary to ensure that I am operating responsibly. I would go so far as to recommend a tax or fee that could offset administrative expenses.
There are 33 other land owners with OLCC recreational producer licenses operating on rural residential land in Josephine County, as well as thousands of growers who are part of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
These individuals have helped bring a better economy back to Josephine County with higher-than-average-wage jobs and by spending their money locally. While not all are good neighbors, I would imagine that like other instances where regulation is enacted, a few bad actors ruin it for the majority.
I would encourage all those who are considering supporting this proposed ban to first ask yourself if, how and why you are being impacted by marijuana grown legally in Oregon on rural residential land. Then I would ask you, the rural residential neighbor of a legally regulated cannabis farm, to gather up some produce from the garden and go over to chat with the "weed farmer" and see if they are really that different than you and your pursuit of happiness.
Charles Brooks is a licensed marijuana producer who lives in Grants Pass and is the proprietor of Loved Buds.