Neighbors upset about medical marijuana gardens

Cultivating medical marijuana is legal, but complaints are growing from neighbors over the pungent smell, bright lights and traffic at all hours.

Jackson County commissioners Thursday said they might consider altering land-use laws to allay these concerns or urging legislators to address the issue of public nuisance, but they wanted to stay clear of any actions that would conflict with state laws.

"The thing we came up against is the smell — it is like being 10 feet from a skunk," said Shayne Maxwell, a Rogue River resident who has a neighbor growing medical pot. "It also attracts skunks."

Maxwell, who presented the problem to commissioners and also is on the county's budget committee, said she supports medical marijuana, but thinks growing the plants should be subject to the same land-use laws that govern other activities on properties.

Her neighborhood comprises mostly 2.5-acre rural residential lots and isn't zoned for farming, she said.

Maxwell said her objection is not to the marijuana, but the smell, the traffic and the bright grow lights.

"I would do the same thing if there were carrots and they smelled like that," she said.

She told commissioners she can't go into her backyard or open windows because the pungent pot smell is overpowering in September and October, when the plants are ready for harvest.

Commissioners appeared sympathetic, but said current land-use laws apply to businesses in rural areas, not to nonprofits such as medical marijuana gardens.

They also wanted to be careful not to write local regulations that would conflict with state laws over medical marijuana.

The commissioners said the Legislature should be more responsible by rewriting the medical marijuana law so that it takes into consideration impact on neighborhoods.

"The Legislature did dump on counties," Commissioner C.W. Smith said.

He said some of the medical marijuana gardens are operating at a commercial level, so he thought there should be provisions to ensure they are good neighbors.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour noted the county wasn't able to devise a noise ordinance several years ago, so he believed drafting regulations on smell and lights also would pose problems.

Commissioners agreed to analyze the possibility of writing new language into the county's land-use laws, but also wanted to urge lawmakers to address the issue with legislation.

Jackson County Sheriff's Detective Donald Adams said his agency received hundreds of complaints over the last month about medical marijuana.

Richard Maughs, a medical marijuana grower and consultant who lives near Rogue River, said neighbor complaints are leading to more people knowing about the operation and increasing the chances of thievery.

Pointing toward one of his neighbors, he said, "He has caused a security risk for our patients."

Maughs said he has people watching the operation 24 hours a day.

He said the conflict with his neighbor is adding to the stress of losing at least three patients to cancer and other illnesses this year.

"Everything here is for our patients," said Maughs, 55.

He said he has talked to the sheriff's department about his operation and doesn't think the smell or the number of plants he's growing should cause a big problem. He estimated the plants are about 100 yards from the nearest house, except for his landlord's.

Maughs said he could grow up to six plants for each patient, but said he has chosen to grow only three to be a good neighbor.

Steve Austin, a Rogue River neighbor who complained to commissioners about a marijuana operation, said, "My issue is the unbelievable hordes of lowlifes and miscreants that charge up and down this driveway."

Melanie Barniskis, spokeswoman for the Southern Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the smell of marijuana can be intense at this time of year, but there is nothing in Oregon legislation addressing smell.

Traffic is a neighborhood issue, which Barniskis said should be worked out among the residents.

"That would upset me," she said. "I would tell my patients to come only during normal business hours."

NORML promotes the responsible use of marijuana and urges growers to show respect to neighbors. But because the marijuana is a medication, there may be instances in which someone needs to come in the early morning hours, she said.

"Most people who are legal growers are going to follow the law to the letter," she said. "They do this out of compassion."

She said under Oregon law, the grow site must be kept out of view of the public.

Growers often become interested in marijuana after they've seen the benefits of the medicine for a loved one who has cancer or glaucoma.

Barniskis said she didn't dispute the possibility the Sheriff's Department has received a lot of complaints recently because the pot is more visible now and there typically is more security before harvest.

"It is a nervous time, even with the legal protection of having the grow cards," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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