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Your view: Right-to-farm rules shouldn't shield hemp

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was written in response to our editorial Oct. 11.

The recent MT editorial regarding the increasing complaints about hemp farming and processing defended these activities on the basis that such activities are protected by state law, that curtailing such activities would “damage one of the state’s major industries” and concluded that “growers and their neighbors will need to learn to coexist.”

I disagree. First of all, there can be no argument that hemp operations create a significant nuisance to residents of the valley. The unpleasant and noxious odors permeate neighborhoods, schools, medical facilities, retirement homes, etc. The noise from 24-hour generators, odors and nighttime activities severely impact the peace and quiet of nearby homeowners and businesses. I have yet to talk to a citizen that does not find these activities objectionable and unpleasant. Citizens deserve a forum to resolve their complaints through the code enforcement process or through individual lawsuits.

The editorial is correct that present state law arguably provides relief to farming activities against nuisance complaints. An exemption is provided for death or serious physical injury (see ORS 30.936). As background for the present law, in 1973, the Legislature passed SB 100, a comprehensive statewide land management plan in response to concerns over urban growth in the Willamette Valley. A significant part of this plan was a legislative intent to preserve land for agricultural activities. In 1993, the Legislature adopted Oregon’s Right to Farm laws that give farming and forest activities certain protections from local zoning laws and the aforementioned “nuisance” exemptions (see ORS 30.930, et seq.). However, none of this legislation (and subsequent amendments to date) contemplated the issues associated with Oregon’s newly minted hemp industry.

In view of the current crisis being created by the activities of hemp farmers and the impact these activities are having on the residents of our valley, I believe it is timely for the Legislature to repeal, amend or update the language of ORS 30.936. First of all, doing so would not contravene the intent of SB 100, as the hemp activities are taking place on existing agricultural land already protected by law. Secondly, the argument that hemp farming activities “are critical to the economic welfare of this state” (see legislative finding, ORS 30.933) is questionable. No such data exist at this time.

The existing statutes were designed to provide zoning protections for and to preserve land for agricultural use. There is no specific language in the statute that protects a certain crop. For example, would it be acceptable for someone to grow poppies and process heroin? I think not. There is also precedent for the Legislature’s ability to amend these statutes, as they did in banning the field burning in Linn and Benton counties.

It is time for Oregon legislators, Jackson County commissioners and local city councils to stand for the greater societal good instead of out-of-state carpetbaggers out to make a quick buck on the backs of valley residents. County commissioners can begin by enacting a moratorium on any new hemp processing licenses.

Ted Krempa lives in Medford.

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