Jackson County is raising its maximum fine from $10,000 to $20,000 for code violations — in part because officials say owners of illegal marijuana grows are undeterred by the threat of a $10,000 fine.
"A lot of people are being impacted by people who are ignoring our ordinances," said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.
Commissioners discussed the issue of fines during a work session in October, then voted this month to raise the cost for violations.
Dyer and Commissioner Bob Strosser voted to increase a variety of minimum and maximum fines. Commissioner Colleen Roberts voted against the move, saying the fines impact more than marijuana growers.
The increases go into effect on Jan. 8.
County Administrator Danny Jordan said some marijuana growers are gaming the system. They violate county codes during the growing season, but harvest their crops before the enforcement process is complete. Neighbors who complain to the county have become increasingly frustrated.
"It is a problem and it is a problem for people who have to put up with it every year," Jordan said.
The county's approach to code enforcement is to first try to get voluntary compliance, which gives the illegal growers a window of time. Some growers also ask county staff for continuances on their cases, further stretching out the enforcement timeline, Jordan said.
"It's a manipulation of the process," he said.
Jordan said some marijuana operations are lucrative, creating an incentive to violate rules and disregard penalties.
"When you're making $1 million, you don't care about the fine," he said.
On Oct. 24, the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team raided a marijuana farm north of Eagle Point where medical marijuana was allegedly being sold illegally.
Farm operator Clifton Dwight Crump allegedly told investigators he sold between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of marijuana at a time on multiple occasions.
Crump was busted after allegedly selling one pound of marijuana to an undercover agent for $1,500.
The raid netted three tons of processed and unprocessed marijuana, along with butane honey oil, psilocybin mushrooms, methamphetamine and $7,600 in cash, according to MADGE.
Criminal charges are pending against Crump in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Strosser said marijuana grows aren't the only sites generating complaints about ongoing violations. He said some property owners allow garbage, broken-down vehicles and other debris to build up on their land — an issue that frustrates neighbors and uses up the time of code enforcement workers and Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputies who field complaints.
While the $20,000 code violation fine will be new in 2018, the county has more severe penalties on its books that have never been used, said Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton.
A for-profit business that violates codes could potentially be fined up to two times its profits, he said.
Another option is to assess a fine that is equal to the value of the property, Benton said.
Jackson County's hearings officers have never used those fine options, he said.
Benton said some marijuana growers have reportedly said paying county fines is just a cost of doing business.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.