Bans, Burdensome Regulations on Marijuana Businesses Arising in Rural Oregon

cannabis restrictions

By John Schroyer

After Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana legalization last year, the state approved a bill allowing communities where support for the initiative was low to ban commercial cannabis activity.

So far, at least 13 cities and four counties have taken advantage of that opportunity, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and the Oregon League of Cities.

But that’s not the whole story.

In reality, far more cannabis-wary officials in rural parts of the state have been implementing a variety of restrictions and regulations designed to both hamper the marijuana industry and also clamp down on cannabis use. The moves could limit opportunities in smaller towns and push cannabis businesses to bigger cities that are more accepting of the industry.

One of the most prominent examples is Grants Pass, a town of roughly 35,000 in the southern part of the state, where the city council in mid-July approved a new ordinance requiring that all marijuana be grown indoors.

The law essentially eliminates a longstanding local tradition, as many medical cannabis cultivators and home growers in that area prefer to grow outside. The ban went into effect immediately for private recreational cannabis grows and will apply to MMJ cultivators starting in January. It will also cover commercial recreational sites when they emerge.

The council’s decision drew immediate outrage from cannabis advocates who have long been accustomed to growing outdoors. Pete Gendron, a board member of the Oregon Sungrown Growers Guild (OSGG), said he expects a lawsuit to be filed over the ban.

“We are discussing with attorneys how to proceed forward with this, but there are individuals within the city and county that have already started to collect funds and approach attorneys,” Gendron said. “Until we win one of these cases in court… I believe (officials) will continue to attempt to ban cultivation in order to stem the supply of legal cannabis.”

Robert Graham, an attorney in Grants Pass, said the situation is indicative of a larger trend.

“It’s not an isolated incident,” Graham said. “There are efforts throughout the state (to curtail the marijuana industry).”

Graham said that instead of going with straight-out bans, many local governments are instead relying on overly burdensome regulations that are so strict they essentially add up to prohibition. Such methods have been used or are underway in the municipalities of Cave Junction and Medford, he said.

Other municipalities and counties have taken steps to limit the marijuana trade since voters passed Measure 91 last November, which legalized recreational cannabis use and sales.

Some examples:

– Douglas, Umatilla, Harney and Malheur Counties, all in rural parts of the state, have already opted into a ban under the new state law.

– So have the municipalities of Baker City, Brownsville, Hermiston, Hubbard, Island City, Junction City, Nyssa, Oakland, Ontario, Sandy, Sutherlin, Vale and Winston, according to both the OLCC and a survey by the Oregon League of Cities. Two additional cities have banned MMJ businesses.

– Deschutes County, in central Oregon, may also enact a ban.

– The eastern Oregon city of Pendleton approved a nuisance ordinance under which cannabis users can be fined $500 if neighbors smell marijuana smoke. In Roseburg, also in the southern part of the state, the city council is considering a similar outdoor cultivation ban to the one Grants Pass implemented, Gendron said.

The state is currently allowing cities and counties to enact bans on commercial cannabis activity if 55% or more of local voters opposed Measure 91 in the 2014 election, but the window for local governments to do so will close in December.

The anti-cannabis trend mirrors to an extent what happened in Colorado after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, in which dozens of local governments decided to prohibit rec businesses.

In Oregon, such bans have been much less commonplace than they were in Colorado ahead of the recreational marijuana industry’s launch there.

Essentially all such moves have been in more rural parts of Oregon, as opposed to in urban centers such as Portland, Eugene, Salem or Bend, where the rec industry is more likely to be centered.

It’s somewhat understandable why officials in southern Oregon are eyeing 0utdoor cultivation bans given the proliferation of such operations, some observers say.

“I was just on the phone with a county talking about this exact thing, trying to prevent them from opting out (of the rec program), and I feel their pain,” said Portland attorney Amy Margolis. “These counties have tons of outdoor out-of-control grows right now. Southern Oregon is crazy right now… You cannot throw a stone without hitting a grow, and people are complaining. They’re complaining they don’t know their neighbors anymore, they’re complaining about waste water, they’re complaining about people defacing mountains. Some of that is BS, and some of it is not.”

Margolis further said that she thinks a lot of the impediments to the industry either will stay on the smaller end of the scale, or will end up being reversed so that cannabis companies will flourish.

“Do I think that all of eastern Oregon banning cannabis is a good idea? No. I think it’s stupid. But they’re going to come around, and I hope they’ll see it work everywhere else, like Portland and Eugene and other places, and they’ll realize this is a positive system to participate in,” Margolis said.

She noted that the Grants Pass ordinance wasn’t a straight-out ban on commercial marijuana, only a restriction against growing outdoors. Indoor cultivation is still legal, she pointed out, and therefore she doubts that a lawsuit to overturn the ordinance will succeed.

Gendron, however, said the problem is more widespread than some think it is.

“A number of these cities aren’t pursuing bans; they’re just refusing to issue business licenses,” Gendron said, predicting that the “prohibitionist mentality” driving such moves will continue until a judge sides with Measure 91 and the cannabis industry.

Margolis, however, was more optimistic.

“This industry’s going to thrive, and that’s because there a lot of good, smart people working in it,” she said.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

5 comments on “Bans, Burdensome Regulations on Marijuana Businesses Arising in Rural Oregon
  1. Bill on

    I guess I won’t be supporting businesses in any of these negative counties any more and hope other users will also spend where its deserved.

  2. Janet king on

    My parents live in cave junction where there are no jobs. A lot of the people out there depend on their outdoor growing season to help them get through the winter. Of course the people in government will never understand these kinds of things because they all get those reliable pay checks from tax payer dollars, so why should they care.

  3. Rick Fague on

    I’m not disturbed much by any of this. Oregon is experiencing the same phenomenon that Colorado and Washington experienced, everybody overreacts at first.

    Once people realize the world doesn’t end just because a weed shop opens up in town, their opinions will gradually change and regulations will relax.

  4. ghost on

    its to protect the profit margins of the growers who support the politicians monetarily (it happens in the triangle where growers who contribute to political and county figures don’t get raiided by and growers who don’t have the cops trespassing and chopping down their gardens) and to reduce the burden on the police who now must seek out and capture as well as the adjudication system (ie justice system) to prosecute farm raiders and kids who steal MJ.

    its all basically an effort to squeeze money out of the growers.

  5. Know how your Officials Stand on

    Originally Medford issued business licenses to MMJ dispensaries, but after the passing of Measure 91 they quit renewing. This was detrimental in killing family owned businesses. One man, the owner of Patients Helping Patients, was on his knees, crying, pleading in front of Medford City Council to REISSUE his business licence (see Facebook, Patients Helping Patients for article links) for his very small family owned MMJ dispensary. It was heart wrenching, watching this mans livelihood stolen by bureaucrats. The council quickly exhausted his ability to legally fight this, using the city attorney, tax payer dollars and Senate Bill 1531 and House Bill 3460 as a trump to state laws. He reapplied several times. He was not a scofflaw as the city council made it sound in the article and statements issued. He did follow the state and local laws until they changed their position mid-stream. He and his business were issued permanent moratoriums in Medford in relation to marijuana dispensaries. This is not the only legal family MMJ business they did this to. Richard and Marlene Nuckols, owners of MaryJane’s Basement and Attic in the WinCo shopping center, are set to go to trial in Jackson County Circuit Court, almost a year after a judge shut their store down.

    The business licence is not really for revenue, it is to self identify for the government to collect taxes, set regulations and send inspectors to dispense regulatory fines for non compliance. It was not in the best interest the tax payers, voters and the community.

    The council’s job as I see it is to bring in jobs, revenue and take advantage of the 3% of tax money offered by the State for Measure 91. Instead they spend tax $ destroying lives and passing on the money our community could use for budget shortfalls like kids programs, road projects and community improvement.

    Now they are allowing indoor grows only as a way to side step, to collect state marijuana tax money. They say its due to complaints about smell, but only 17 people complained about smell, about one fifth of 1% of the city, since March(Medford Mail Tribune-marijuana gardens). The majority of voters said yes to marijuana but the minority has said no to the inevitable, all the while spending our tax money to fight whats coming anyway. A lot of these ordinances, I believe are asinine, imagine having to track every hop for beer or every seed for organic fruits and veggies until final sale, like the seed to sale program. That is 100% about government revenue, not about health reasons. If it was, why is this not done in the tobacco industry, which will kill you or cause health problems, when used correctly. It is also a legal product in the state of Oregon.

    There will ALWAYS BE A BLACK MARKET, thanks to Government Bureaucrats that kowtow to the views of the few. Actual business will be the only real regulators of this industry, based on their employee policies for employment.

    What really has my head spinning is that the Declaration of Independence and Betsy Ross’s first American flag were made from Hemp because its a stronger more durable textile product. Marijuana/Hemp currently would not be in “prohibition” if it wasn’t for Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family. Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America, had invested heavily in the Du Pont family’s new synthetic fiber, nylon. A fiber that was competing with hemp. Marijuana was vilified by these people in order to ban Hemp, hence “Reefer Madness”.

    We hire our elected officials with our votes. Judges, D.A. Council members, etc., that don’t have the communities interest at heart should be fired at the polling stations for past performance, not lip service for future service. If your expectations have not been met, FIRE THEM, vote.

    Just my personal thoughts.

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