Stink grows over pot control

Jackson County commissioners Tuesday decided to prod legislators for a solution to neighbor complaints about legal marijuana gardens rather than pursue local controls.

Commissioners said it would be too complicated to enact a local ordinance to deal with odors, traffic, lights and other issues that have been reported over pot gardens in rural areas.

"Quite frankly, smell would be difficult to regulate," said Kelly Madding, director of Development Services.

She said the legal gardens are considered a not-for-profit agricultural crop, so they don't fall under the same constraints as a business.

Madding said a local ordinance, which likely would be challenged in the courts, would require a significant increase in the cost of code enforcement.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the current law is difficult to enforce because of the way it's written.

"No way in the world can you regulate it," he said.

The county drafted a concept law and sent it to legislators asking for more regulation of medical marijuana grow sites, including alerting law enforcement about new gardens.

Legislators might not carry the bill forward for the county until they see how voters respond to several initiatives regarding medical marijuana that could be on the November ballot.

Mel Barniskis, information manager for Southern Oregon NORML, a cannabis resource and information center at 332 W. Sixth St., Medford, criticized the tenor of the county's proposed legislation.

"It seems to serve the purposes of law enforcement, but doesn't address the welfare of patients," she said. "It seems to put more hardships on patients."

Commissioners propose limiting the amount of marijuana on hand at any one time and restricting patients to possessing one ounce. Instead of six plants for a patient, commissioners propose allowing only two mature plants plus two seedlings.

"Allowing so much marijuana provides a clear opportunity for abuse," the concept legislation stated.

With 2,418 medical marijuana cardholders, Jackson County has the third highest number of patients using the drug behind Multnomah and Lane counties, according to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Under current law, a grower can have up to six mature plants and 18 starts and seedlings per patient for up to four patients.

Barniskis said the concept legislation shows a lack of understanding about the way medical marijuana is grown and used.

Barniskis said there is a big difference in the amount of marijuana that can be grown indoors versus outdoors. An indoor plant generally produces several ounces, while an outdoor plant can produce a couple of pounds, she said. Having additional plants helps ensure a grower won't experience a complete crop failure should bug infestations or mold occur.

Patients' needs for the medication vary wildly, she said. Some ingest the drug because they can't or don't like to smoke it, which requires more plant material to produce the medicinal effect, she said. Some patients require more than an ounce a week to deal with a particular health problem, Barniskis said.

Patients sometimes drive long distances to obtain their medication, so limiting them to just one ounce would also be a problem, she said.

Commissioners want to prohibit grow sites within 1,000 feet of a school. Barniskis said her organization encourages renters who want to grow medical marijuana to move to a different area. In other cases, where someone owns a house, she said NORML strongly advises the growers who are near schools to make sure the plants aren't visible and to take precautions to reduce the smell.

Commissioners acknowledged that initiatives in the works could change Oregon's marijuana laws.

In particular, Initiative 28 proposes creating a regulatory process through the Oregon Department of Human Services to keep better track of growing operations.

John Sajo, executive director of Voter Power, an organization backing Initiative 28, said if voters enact the initiative, it would create more regulatory authority and would resolve some of the problems such as large gardens.

He said the initiative would provide a role for county government to potentially enforce zoning restrictions on marijuana gardens.

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

Share This Story