Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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

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

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

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.

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