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Ashland may restrict outdoor pot growing

ASHLAND — With the legalization of marijuana less than five months away, city officials are considering an ordinance that would restrict the outdoor growing of pot in residential areas.

Under Ballot Measure 91, which takes effect July 1, adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana and up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will start licensing for commercial sales Jan. 1, 2016.

Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner told Ashland City Council Tuesday he's worried the new law could cause an increase in offensive odors and other quality-of-life issues, a problem city officials already have encountered with medical marijuana.

"Last fall, we responded to about a half dozen odor complaints all over town — people were growing marijuana outdoors," Kanner said. He pointed to Arcata, Calif., as an example of a city that successfully has adapted its civil code to rein in commercial growing.

"They regulate not just outdoor growing but indoor growing as well," he said.

Arcata adopted the ordinances after it experienced a massive boom in the number of grow operations following California voters' approval of medical marijuana in 1996. "There were 625 houses in which nobody was living," Kanner said. "They were being used solely for growing marijuana."

Kanner said that Ashland's ordinances may not need to be as restrictive as Arcata's. The new law already requires plants possessed for personal use to be screened from public view, Kanner said. He suggested the new ordinance could prevent a rash of unoccupied grow houses by requiring plants possessed for personal use to be kept in that person's physical residence and require a minimum distance from other residences to minimize offensive odors from flowering plants.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse suggested that time-place restrictions could include prohibitions on indoor growing near schools.

"I wonder if it's even appropriate in certain areas of town," he said.

The council gave city staff direction to pursue the drafting of a new ordinance. Kanner said he'd also like to explore changes to the city's electrical infrastructure in hopes of capturing revenue from commercial growers who may be drawn to the city by its low electrical rates. 

"This is something that's coming, and it's coming very soon," he said.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471 or tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.