Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said Monday he believes county officials are interpreting a new state law correctly when they say it blocks medical marijuana grows on land zoned for rural residential use.
During a forum at the Mail Tribune last week, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, said Jackson County officials are misinterpreting marijuana legislation approved by the Oregon Legislature during a short session that wrapped up earlier this month.
Buckley, a longtime champion of legalized marijuana, said the legislative intent of the new law was to "grandfather in medical marijuana in rural residential wherever it exists in the state of Oregon," so that growers could also participate in the recreational marijuana market through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Jackson County officials are "interpreting the law to say, 'We must now disallow medical marijuana,' " Buckley said. "That is not the intent of the legislation."
However, Dyer said Senate Bill 1598 clearly designates medical marijuana growing as a farm use, and farm use is not allowed in rural residential zones under Jackson County's land-use laws.
Farm use is a legal term referring to an intensive agricultural operation. Jackson County has long held farm use is not appropriate for rural residential zones, which are intended for quiet country living. Recreational marijuana was already a farm use under state law and has been banned on rural residential land in Jackson County.
Counties in the state differ on what they allow on rural residential land.
Dyer said comments made by Buckley and Bates about Jackson County officials misinterpreting the law are not accurate.
"This comment has served only to give the impression that Jackson County desired this result and to agitate and frustrate the growers further," Dyer said in an email to the legislators. "Specifically, it raised erroneous doubts about Jackson County’s efforts over the past several months toward its goals of making reasonable regulations to allow medical marijuana production on RR land to continue while adequately protecting all other interests involved."
Dyer added, "SB 1598 was the vehicle that, very specifically, thwarted those efforts. I believe this result could have been avoided if more investigation into Jackson County’s land-use policies by the Legislature would have been performed, and very specific language to avoid this result would have been included in the legislation."
Jackson County commissioners had been moving toward allowing medical marijuana grows on rural residential land with 75-foot buffers from neighboring property lines. That stopped after they reviewed the new state law.
Commissioners will consider adoption of an emergency ordinance enacting a host of county marijuana regulations at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave.
Dyer said in an interview Monday that, with medical marijuana grows blocked on rural residential land, he thinks there is now no longer a need for the buffer rules.
County officials have said current medical marijuana growers on rural residential land could apply to become pre-existing, non-conforming uses.
Dyer said in his email the legislators' comments at the forum could erode trust between county officials and the legislators.
"I believe a public retraction of this comment should be forthcoming and would help to continue a more productive relationship going forward," he said.
Dyer said he can only conclude that the Legislature created legislation that resulted in unintended consequences that can only be fixed by amending the law or Jackson County changing its laws.
Dyer said he is not willing to adopt a local policy that breaks existing county laws.
"Our county mandate is clear — no farm use on rural residential land, and medical marijuana is a farm use," he said in an interview.
In an email response to Dyer, Buckley said legislators' intent was to allow existing medical marijuana grows on rural residential land but to ban future growers. Buckley said legislators were fine with reasonable regulations on current growers.
"I think we all want to find the balance that works for patients and for neighbors," Buckley said in the email. "I hope the county will be willing to work within that framework."
He went on, "I'd be more than happy to issue a joint statement to that effect, that current growers are fine, new grow sites in rural residential are not allowed. Again, my priority is making sure current patients are served, and that is what we were told the legislation would provide for."
Buckley said Legislative Counsel Mark Mayer believes he drafted a law to protect current medical marijuana growers on rural residential land. He said Mayer would be issuing a detailed response soon.
In an interview Monday, Buckley said Mayer's legislative opinion could come out this week or early next week at the latest.
Buckley said multiple statutes were impacted by the legislation. Jackson County officials are correct in their interpretation of the impact on rural residential zones, he said, if they look only at that issue in isolation.
But Buckley said a different interpretation can be reached by looking at language that allows for existing non-conforming uses to continue.
"The challenge is to clarify and walk that fine line," he said.