Pubdate: Sun, 20 Mar 2016
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2016 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area, 200 word count limit


The authors of Ballot Measure 91, which legalized the possession and 
use of recreational marijuana by Oregon adults, took care to leave 
the state's existing medical marijuana program alone. But the 
Legislature, in the course of trying to fashion a workable 
recreational industry, made changes that affected medical growers, 
especially in Jackson County.

County officials say their hands are tied by what lawmakers did 
regarding medical marijuana production on land zoned rural 
residential. But they need to do more to ease the impact on existing 
medical growers.

The medical system, first established in 1998, was long on 
permissiveness and short on regulation, which resulted in gray areas 
ripe for abuse by unscrupulous producers. The medical law approved by 
voters said providers of medicinal marijuana could recover their 
costs of production and processing, but not make a profit.

That was fine with many growers who were and still are dedicated to 
helping patients relieve the symptoms of chronic conditions and 
terminal diseases. For others, it was an ideal cover for exporting a 
very valuable product to states where it was illegal in any form.

When voters decided recreational marijuana should also be legal, they 
upped the ante in the state's conflict with federal law, which still 
considers marijuana a dangerous drug off limits for any purpose. 
Federal authorities told state officials they needed to make sure 
marijuana was not being diverted to the black market if they wanted 
to avoid federal enforcement actions against the new industry the 
state's voters had created.

In their attempts to impose order on the new system, lawmakers 
decided medical marijuana growing should be considered a farm use in 
rural areas. That had an immediate effect here, because Jackson 
County's land-use ordinance prohibits farm uses on land zoned rural 
residential. It also caused the county to abandon plans establishing 
new rules for growing on those lands, where medical marijuana has 
been harvested for years.

Lawmakers said their intent was to allow existing growers to be 
grandfathered in, but county officials say they have no choice but to 
follow their own land use laws and prohibit medical growing on rural 
residential land. Growers already operating, they say, can apply for 
nonconforming-use status, available to property owners already using 
their land in a way that becomes illegal. The cost of that 
application is $1,563 - a substantial burden for medical growers 
barred from turning a profit.

It's clear the legislative intent was to protect marijuana production 
by recognizing it as a farm crop and it's clear that Jackson County 
officials were working toward establishing a system to allow medical 
grows on rural residential land. The exact opposite happened here and 
county officials should take steps to correct that. A good place to 
start would be to dramatically reduce the fee for a nonconforming 
use, at least for a period of time, and then to put off any 
enforcement actions until the Legislature has a chance to revisit the issue.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom