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County's ability to control marijuana grow sites limited

Oregon right-to-farm laws offer protection for pot growers
 Posted: 2:00 AM June 25, 2014

Because of Oregon right-to-farm laws, the hands of Jackson County commissioners are essentially tied when it comes to regulating marijuana grow sites.

Commissioners, who say they have fielded complaints from county residents about pot farms, learned during a Tuesday work session that Oregon farm law limits the county's ability to impose regulations on marijuana growers.

"Anyone who decides to do it will be in pretty drawn-out litigation," County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

Commissioner Don Skundrick said he has heard complaints about odors, lights and traffic resulting from grow sites. Marijuana plants are known for producing a skunk-like odor, especially as they mature and harvest time approaches.

Some residents are concerned grow sites will devalue their property, Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said.

"At what point do we say we have to do something?" he asked.

But Jordan said if the county tried to adopt nuisance regulations to stop marijuana grow sites, the rules would have to apply to all agricultural operations. For example, if the county restricted the use of lights, that could impact a wheat farmer using lights to work on his field.

Onion farmers could be impacted by odor nuisance laws meant to target marijuana plants.

Oregon has strong right-to-farm laws protecting agricultural practices.

The number of marijuana grow sites could increase in the county because the state has created a regulatory structure to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

The state Legislature gave local jurisdictions the authority to enact their own regulations on dispensaries but not added authority to regulate grow sites.

Jackson County adopted a moratorium on dispensaries until May 1, 2015, while it works out regulations on dispensaries. The county is at the beginning of a months-long process to adopt its own dispensary regulations.

The state imposes a variety of regulations, including that dispensaries have security systems and be located at least 1,000 feet from each other and schools.

Some cities have been able to target marijuana grow sites through nuisance regulations.

In 2012, the city of Ashland ticketed a man who was growing about two dozen plants for medical marijuana patients. He harvested the plants to eliminate skunk-like odors that prompted complaints from neighbors.

Ashland Assistant Planner Amy Gunter said nuisance regulations in the Ashland Municipal Code cover issues such as unnecessary noise and odor. Even agricultural operations can't negatively impact certain rights of neighbors in residential areas inside the city, she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.


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