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Cannabis growers cautiously upbeat

By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier

Marijuana grower Charles Brooks can now make plans to put in his spring crop.

"We can proceed with our season," he said Tuesday, one day after the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA, issued a stay delaying enforcement of Josephine County's new restrictions on commercial pot farms.

LUBA told the county to hold off until the board decides the legality of the restrictions. The ordinance was slated to go into effect March 6.

Freed to continue operations, Brooks said he'll nurture seedlings in his greenhouse until they're ready for planting outside come June 1. His farm is southwest of Grants Pass.

Brooks is among 45 growers appealing the restrictions to the LUBA. The county in December adopted an ordinance banning commercial operations on lots 5 acres and smaller in rural residential zones, and to restrict the size of operations on larger rural residential lots unless the county grants a variance.

Brooks' property is slightly under 5 acres and in a rural residential zone. His operation possibly could have been shut down if the new rules went into effect as planned.

Because he was the first licensed grower in the state, Brooks felt he might be first on the list for enforcement. He said he was watching the calendar.

 

"We were checking off the days," he said. "We were at 28 days. What we were assuming: If it can go bad, it'll go bad."

Brooks and other growers are happy with the delay, but they are uncertain of LUBA's ultimate decision on the legality of the county's ordinance containing the restrictions.

"We're certainly glad there was a stay and we certainly don't know what's next," he said.

Like other growers, Brooks is disappointed the county won't allow existing marijuana farms to continue outright.

"Going forward, they could ban anything they want," he said. "They're just trying to do it retroactively."

His sentiments were expressed by others.

Mason Walker of East Fork Cultivars in Takilma said his licensed recreational marijuana operation would be virtually shut down if the ordinance went into effect. His farm, on 9 acres of land zoned rural residential, has a 40,000-square-foot growing area, which would be reduced to 5,000 under the ordinance.

Walker said he joined in the legal action reluctantly. He is a board member of a trade organization called the Craft Cannabis Alliance. It has about 50 members.

"We really wanted to find a collaborative solution" with the county, he said. "We felt neighbors had valid concerns (with farms in general)."

But, he feels the restrictions will harm the "good" growers while not solving the problem of the "bad" ones.

"I think the stay issued by LUBA was a good thing," he said. "It's an opportunity to talk about this again."

Monday's decision by LUBA was procedural and not on the merits of the case. Walker hopes the delay opens a door to discussion.

"My only fear is, because it's gone this route, because we sent it to LUBA, it may drive people to anger. My fear is it may lead to more division."

Pete Gendron of the Oregon SunGrowers Guild, another trade association, said it's yet to be decided how LUBA ultimately will rule.

"I think people might be slightly overreacting," he said. "The stay isn't entirely uncommon when it's a controversial decision."

Gendron feels that LUBA will act on the merits of the case as soon as possible.

"LUBA is taking this issue seriously and we appreciate that," he said. "This is wait and see. I'm not sure which case is stronger."

The appeal is being led by Portland attorney Ross Day. The growers' group is called Farming & Agricultural Rights Management Society, or F.A.R.M.S., a nonprofit property rights land-use organization.

Commissioners approved the measure after receiving neighbor complaints and concerns about nearby marijuana farms. Earlier in the year, voters agreed by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent that they didn't want commercial marijuana operations in rural residential zones.

Now that the stay is in place, Day said he intends to file paperwork this week formally detailing his group's reasons for its appeal. The county then would have an opportunity to respond. LUBA could uphold the ordinance, reverse it or send it back to the county for retooling.

"The county commissioners passed an ordinance with the intent of taking away my clients' property rights," Day said, in an emailed statement.

Commissioner Dan DeYoung said he wasn't discouraged "one little bit" by Monday's procedural ruling.

"I just have to sit back and see what LUBA does," he said. "That's just going to have to run its course. This is a long, drawn-out thing.

"I don't hold it against people," he continued. "We didn't lose. They didn't win. I think the people who are going to lose is the citizens of Josephine County. They want something done."

In a related matter, F.A.R.M.S. is holding a membership meeting at 6 p.m. this evening at the former Elks building at 207 S.W. K St. in Grants Pass. The agenda includes the ordinance and proposed new marijuana taxes to fund local law enforcement.

New members are invited. For more information about the group, send an email to info@farmsjoco.com.

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Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or shall@thedailycourier.com.

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