Good Farmer, Good Neighbor

TAKILMA — Carl Wilson wishes people could just get along.

During a tour Wednesday of East Fork Cultivars marijuana farm in Takilma, south of Cave Junction, the Oregon House Republican from Grants Pass spoke with the owners about conflicts across Josephine County between growers and neighbors. The county's planning department has fielded hundreds of complaints about marijuana operations.

"It's neighbor-to-neighbor, human being issues," Wilson said.

East Fork CEO Mason Walker replied that mediation and education might be able to help calm the uproar. Echoing comments supported by county officials, he said it is mostly medical marijuana farmers and illegal growers, not tightly regulated recreational farmers like himself, who are to blame.

"The bad actors are largely not licensed recreational farms," Walker said. "We're frustrated by it."

Lots of folks are frustrated. The county has over 3,000 medical marijuana grow sites, second only to Jackson County in Oregon.

Wilson's question about neighborhood peace goes to the central impetus behind a proposed ban on new marijuana farms in the county's rural residential zones. The county Board of Commissioners is set to hold a public hearing on the ban at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Basker Auditorium, 604 N.W. Sixth St. A second hearing is set for Oct. 4.

Despite his concerns, Wilson feels that the ban is not the way to go, at least not yet. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to commissioners asking them to hold off and give new state laws regulating the marijuana industry a chance to take effect.

New state laws include a mandate that medical marijuana farmers growing 13 or more marijuana plants register for oversight by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

 

"I know the board faces pressure to do something," Wilson wrote. "I would simply encourage caution. 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."

Walker agreed.

"They are feeling the political pressure," he said. "It's a big mistake."

In particular, Walker didn't like a provision calling for annual county inspections of marijuana farms, including a clause allowing a grower's permit to be revoked or not even issued in the first place if inspectors find code violations.

The county already doesn't have enough code officers to keep up. Currently, the county has about 700 open code violation cases, which may or may not involve marijuana farms.

The county's planning director, Julie Schmelzer, has said she would like to hire an additional code enforcement officer and that her department would work with property owners on any code violations.

She has also made it clear, however, that she envisions the threat to not issue or renew a permit as a powerful tool for the county to help cure a plethora of violations from Wolf Creek to Williams, particularly those threatening health and safety.

During his tour of the farm, Wilson heard about the farm's operations, including the fact that it employs 11 people full time, each earning a minimum of $40,000 a year. He heard about the quality of the product grown there, including a variety of marijuana high in CBD compounds, which are viewed as healthful. Walker talked about organic farming practices used there. He said the farm sells to 15 processors and that its products are sold in 140 stores.

Walker said finished product was selling for about $750 a pound, and that per-plant yields ranged from 2 to 8 pounds. As he spoke, hundreds of plants were within view.

The grow site was maybe the size of a football field and was enclosed by wire fencing, with several security cameras in place. The smell wasn't overpowering.

East Fork Cultivars is owned by five people, including Walker, Aaron Howard and Jo Perkins, who accompanied Wilson on his tour.

Howard said he invited Wilson as a way of "reaching out," while Wilson said it was important for him to get out of the office and into the field. As a member of state legislative committee that helped draft rules on recreational marijuana, he now knows a lot more about the subject than he did a few years ago.

Howard, who started out as a medical marijuana farmer to benefit a brother who suffered from seizures, is big on spreading the good word about the high quality of Southern Oregon marijuana. East Fork Cultivars is a member of the newly formed Craft Cannabis Alliance.

Perkins said the marijuana industry can benefit Josephine County immensely. It already seems to have benefitted not only farm owners and employees, but tradesmen and service providers who are helping to literally build the industry. The burgeoning industry also means business for retailers.

Even as Perkins spoke, workmen were nearby on a farm building, constructing a mahogany deck. New electrical service was going in, too — all by permit.

"It could be something that creates opportunity," he said.

Asked for his advice, Wilson urged the owners — there's five of them, total — to become part of the mainstream community.

"That kills suspicion when you become part of things," he said. "There's so much suspicion out there."

Wilson also complimented the East Fork operation.

"I've seen the way it ought to be done and they're doing it right," he said.

———

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

 

A ban on new marijuana farms?

WHAT: The Josephine County Board of Commissioners is due to hold the first of two public hearings on a proposal to ban new marijuana farms in the county's rural residential zones.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Wednesday. The second hearing is Oct. 4.

WHERE: Basker Auditorium, 604 N.W. Sixth St.

WHY: Commissioners are reacting to more than 1,000 marijuana-related land use complaints received over the last year. Voters in May, by a 2-1 margin, said they didn't want commercial marijuana farms in rural residential zones. The vote was advisory.

MORE INFORMATION: The proposed ban and related regulations are posted at co.josephine.or.us.

From The Trenches, By John Sajo

From the Trenches, By John Sajo

Yesterday I participated in an OLCC Rules Advisory Committee on some of the recent legislative changes to Oregon's marijuana laws. SB 1057 and HB 2198 both made many changes affecting medical and recreational marijuana and the OLCC was seeking input on how to draft the new rules.

Many issues were discussed

The "Bump Up"

This refers to a program the Legislature created to give OLCC producers an incentive to donate cannabis to patients. Under the plan OLCC farmers could grow 10% more canopy but must give away 75% of what is produced in that extra canopy to patients. They could sell the remaining 25% to OLCC stores. OLCC producers who choose to participate must register with the OLCC, file a plan indicating how the medical canopy and the recreational canopy will be kept separate and test cannabis prior to donating it to patients. All transfers to patients must be tracked via the METRC system.

The idea behind this is a good one, allow OLCC growers to donate to patients, but like most marijuana regulation it is way more complicated than necessary. This is the second attempt at rules for this program. An earlier version stalled because only two farms applied and neither completed an application. The big problem is that current OLCC rules do not allow OLCC farms to just donate to patients out of their already approved canopy. As long as all the transactions are tracked, I don't see what the problem is. OLCC staff pointed out that there is a work around that where an OLCC grower could transfer cannabis to a store for free and the store could donate to a patient. Nothing like putting a completely unnecessary step between a patient and their medicine. I pointed out that some producers would probably donate directly to patients out of what they already produce, as long as it was simple. Many producers will be sitting on inventory they can't sell before it gets too old which will happen more and more as the number of producers continues to increase. Giving producers added incentives to be charitable is great but making the program simple enough to work is even more important. I think what is good about this program is that it acknowledges that there are lots of qualified patients who can't afford to buy marijuana and programs are needed to assist them, particularly since many have been adversely affected by changes to the law that allowed their growers to become much bigger, for profit, farms but don't allow them to donate to the patients they provided for when they were medical marijuana producers under the OMMP.

The most complete solution is to just let any OLCC producer donate to as many patients as they choose. Tracking these transactions should address any concerns about diversion.

Patient access to processors

For several years, medical growers like myself have been able to have extracts and concentrates made by licensed producers and provide them to our patients. Changes to the laws over the last few years have pushed most processors into regulation by the OLCC and do not allow OMMP growers to transfer cannabis there for processing. Legislative changes in the last session allow patients to take marijuana directly to OLCC processors to have oil or other products made. Unfortunately it appears that the rules will make this so expensive that it just won't work. The problem is that growers would typically take in much larger batches, often ten pounds or more. Patients, unfortunately can only legally possess 24 ounces and so the new proposed rules limit patient transfers to processors to 24 ounces. The problem is that it is not economical for processors to do such small runs and testing on a batch that small will make the cost to the patient unaffordable. The simple solution is to allow growers, who can possess 72 pounds/patient to do the processing. This will likely take a legislative fix and I urge people to support this. This issue is very important. More and more patients are finding medical benefits in using concentrates and extracts. I personally had two patients beat cancer this year with the help of high THC cannabis oil. Licensed processors are probably safer than unlicensed ones and so making it impossible for patients to have access to licensed processors is a big mistake that will drive people to unregulated products. I hope we can fix this.

OMMP growers selling to OLCC

HB 2198 included provisions allowing medical growers to sell a limited amount into the OLCC system. Based on fear of competition from some OLCC producers medical growers will be limited to selling 20 pounds annually and can only sell to wholesalers or processors. The 20 pound limit applies to growsites not growers, so a farm that has 4 growers who each have to now pay $200 grower fee and $480 tracking fee can still only sell 20 pounds. OMMP farms now have a clear incentive to reduce the number of patients who register as their own grower because that will result in thousands of dollars in extra fees. Allowing OMMP growers access to the legal OLCC market is essential to the goal of reducing alternative markets. Limiting this to 20 pounds per growsite makes this a step in the right direction but a much smaller step. The OLCC also has the authority to further limit this if the OLCC system is oversupplied and one participant in the meeting encouraged the OLCC to be ready to shut off the spigot from OMMP farms. I pointed out (again) that shutting out existing OMMP farms while not limiting new OLCC farms, sometimes funded by out of state investors, is a terrible system that will hurt small farmers that take care of patients.

OMMP grower tracking

Any OMMP grower of more than 12 plants or any farm where a grower is designated or any farm where a patient who doesn't live there grows, will now be tracked through the OLCC METRC system. Inspections would be by OLCC but any compliance issues will be handled by OMMP. Growers will have to track every transfer to patients and rules limit giving any patient more that 3 pounds annually. People should comment to the OLCC that statutes limit patient possession to 24 ounces at a time but there is no annual limit.

The statutes and rules around medical marijuana continue to evolve. I encourage everyone to get involved and continue to fight for safe affordable convenient access to patients that can benefit from medical cannabis.

9.14.17 CANNABIS ADVISORY BOARD MEETS FOR THE FIRST TIME

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