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Residents react to town's plan to regulate pot grows

PHOENIX — With no other city in the Rogue Valley regulating backyard growing of medicinal marijuana, the City Council will enter uncharted territory when it considers an ordinance that would seek to control cultivation of medical cannabis inside city limits.

City Manager Steve Dahl said Wednesday that city officials are collecting information from other municipalities around the state and a study session will be held later this month.

A standing-room only crowd at Monday's council meeting drew some four dozen audience members, nearly all of whom opposed special legislation for dealing with an issue that Andrea Adams, co-owner of The Greenery, a marijuana dispensary in Phoenix, said is already "heavily regulated" by state law.

Mayor Jeff Bellah said city officials have no interest in debating the state medical marijuana law but hope to find a balance between cardholder rights and neighbors who "don't appreciate the smell."

Dahl said the proposed ordinance, which will be the subject of a Jan. 28 study session, would seek to mitigate livability issues that arise between neighbors, such as smell that impedes use of neighboring properties, increased rodents and traffic in residential areas.

If approved, the ordinance could define potential setback distances for gardens, heights for fences surrounding grow sites and possibly require growers to control rodents and ensure neighbors cannot smell the plants during harvest time.

At Monday's meeting, Adams, a Talent resident, told city officials to expect litigation to be filed if special legislation is passed regarding medical marijuana.

"I would urge the council to abandon what I see as a waste of time and a way to violate the rights of citizens under Oregon state law," Adams said.

"I would encourage the city to consider more of a good neighbor policy versus restrictions on marijuana growers specifically."

Dahl emphasized that the city's focus was property rights and not micromanaging state marijuana laws.

"Basically what we are saying is, 'If you are legal to grow marijuana in the state of Oregon, we're not trying to debate that or prevent that. But you are not allowed to create a nuisance for the neighbors who live around you,' " said Dahl.

"The way I describe it is if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you have to have a fence around your backyard because it creates a nuisance and a safety concern. If you are growing marijuana in your backyard, and it's leaning over your fence and creating an active nuisance, we're just trying to figure out how to deal with those kind of issues ... We're just trying to create some boundaries that will make everybody happy."

Councilor Karen Jones said there is a "fine line between commercial agriculture and the size of some backyard gardens."

"At what point should they move into agricultural lands?" she asked. "What happens when I can't use my garden because the smell of the marijuana is overpowering?"

Melanie Barniskis, a Phoenix resident and registered cardholder, said issues that arise from the growth of marijuana should be dealt with the same as other issues that arise between property owners.

"I live near a pasture where horses are boarded. On a warm summer morning, I go sit on my porch and I feel like I'm ingesting liquid pooh," said Barniskis.

"To me, my need to grow medicine is a priority over someone else's needs to grow a tomato. And hey, I won't complain about how bad your tomato fertilizer smells. I'm just asking for the same kind of tolerance," she said.

City officials in Central Point, Medford and Ashland said they do not have specific ordinances relating to medical marijuana cultivation, deferring to state laws regulating growth of the plant for medicinal purposes.

Dahl said the Jan. 28 study session will be held at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers, 1000 S. B St.

A regular city council meeting is set for the same time and place Jan. 21, but Dahl said the issue of medical marijuana is not on the agenda.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com