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Marijuana having big impact on county business

Jackson County doesn't manage water delivery or usage in rural areas where medical and recreational marijuana is grown. But the county gets an ear full about it.

After touching on the implications and challenges of unfolding marijuana legality during Monday's Chamber Forum, County Administrator Danny Jordan was queried about the stress the cannabis industry is putting on the local water supply.

"There are a lot of questions," Jordan said. "There's all sorts of complications between the state and federal government about everything to do with marijuana, but also about water. The Bureau of Reclamation basically owns Emigrant Lake, and it's an irrigation lake. What do they think about the dam that holds the water being used for marijuana growing, and it's going to be an issue."

The federal government covers it under the Commerce Clause, and the state believes it has authority under police powers, he said.

"Our ordinance specifies requirements for marijuana growing," Jordan said. "They can have an irrigation right, and they have to prove that right.

Despite telephone calls pouring into the county about marijuana, Jordan reminded the audience the county's only role is regulating land use.

"We don't regulate licensing, we don't regulate grows, we don't regulate water. That's all done by other agencies," he said.

What may set off a broader response, Jordan said, is if ground water disappears.

"My guess is when some wells start going dry, people are going to start hollering at the state Legislature to do something about it, and they may or may not," he said. "They were pretty slow on medical marijuana. In fact, I think they failed our 36 counties in our state with medical marijuana by not creating some uniformity and regulation around medical marijuana."

While counties have oversight in managing time, place and manner concerning pot grows, he said, the state lacks resources to govern recreational components.

"It's going to take years before all of those things work themselves out," Jordan said. "I think there is going to be a ton of court cases."

County commissioners considered making the growing of marijuana in rural residential areas a nuisance.

"We were going to take it all out of land use and put it into a codified ordinance," Jordan said. "The problem is, is that a taking? Someone could grow marijuana worth millions of dollars on their property, and now all of a sudden we passed a law saying they can't. Are they going to come after us for the millions of dollars they lost; it's a taking essentially."

In his prepared remarks, Jordan said there were 293 marijuana-related complaints following adoption of a marijuana ordinance in March 2016. So far 89 code violation hearings have been generated by those complaints — twice the number for all other code violations.

"Those hearings are not inexpensive, they cost us at least $250 a pop," he said.

With growing season just starting, he said 42 marijuana-related violations have been issued, along with eight citations, so far this year.

"We tell people they're doing something that doesn't comply with our code, and you need to fix it. If they don't fix it, we go out and issue a citation to appear before a hearings officer."

He anticipates as many as 500 before the year ends.

"That's just with community development," he said. "We have all sorts of issues with our surveyor's office and land disputes and lot lines. It affects our sheriff's office, it's hugely affecting county business."

In 2016, Jackson County had 5 percent of the state's population, but 15 percent of medical marijuana growers and 13 percent of the marijuana grow sites, Jordan said. "Double per capita, essentially."

Jackson and Josephine counties produce 50 percent of the state's recreational marijuana. Yet most of the tax money from those grows won't end up in Southern Oregon. Multnomah County has 31 percent of the states sales licenses.

As a result, he said, most of the marijuana tax revenue will wind up in Multnomah County.

"It's going to go to the place where the people are, and where the people are buying it," Jordan said. "It's not going to Jackson County, where we probably have more impact than any other county in the state."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.