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Commissioners recommend county pot rules

The Jackson County Planning Commission is recommending a ban on the growing of for-profit recreational marijuana on land zoned for rural residential use.

People would be allowed to grow medical marijuana, but plants would have to be set back from neighboring property lines by at least 250 feet.

Those were among the recommendations adopted Monday by the Jackson County Planning Commission.

In public input sessions on Dec. 3 and 10 before the planning commission, property line buffers were hotly debated. Some said buffers are necessary to protect neighbors from odors and other impacts of marijuana grows, while others said requiring the buffers would make it impossible to grow on many small parcels — putting many small, local producers out of operation.

"I think the 250 foot setback is the most contentious issue that we heard in the testimony," said Planning Commissioner Don Greene.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is tentatively scheduled to take public input on the recommendations during a Jan. 6 meeting. It could take multiple days to hear all the testimony. The board will then decide what regulations to adopt.

Rules could be in place by late January or early February, estimated Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding.

The regulations proposed by the planning commission don't cover the four recreational marijuana plants and six medical marijuana plants adults are allowed to grow for their own personal use under state law. But the rules would have wide-ranging impacts on larger medical and recreational grows.

People could grow medical and recreational marijuana on land zoned for exclusive farm use and forest use. However, planning commissioners concerned about trees being cut down are recommending the board of commissioners carefully consider whether to allow marijuana grows on forest land.

Planning commissioners are recommending that growers be required to have legal water rights to the water they use. Trucking in water would be allowed only if that is not the primary means by which a grower waters marijuana.

"It is impossible to over-emphasize how important this water issue is," said Planning Commissioner Brad Bennington.

Some growers have been accused of illegally using domestic water wells or tapping into creeks and rivers without water rights.

An owner, renter or lease holder would have to live on rural residential land where medical marijuana is grown. That means if a neighbor has a problem with a grow, there would be someone on site to address concerns, planning commissioners reasoned.

They recommended against allowing growers to camp out in RVs, camping trailers or tents overnight — a common practice among growers guarding pot plants that become increasingly valuable as they mature. However, planning commissioners recommended the board of commissioners carefully consider the issue of camping and security.

If a grower is accessing a grow site via a private road, the grower would have to get approval from a majority of neighbors living along the road, according to the recommendations.

Marijuana could be grown on industrial land, but only if marijuana processing was also being done there. Buildings would have to have odor filtration systems, under the proposed regulations.

Whatever regulations the county adopts, they are likely to be challenged in court, even though the Oregon Legislature granted local jurisdictions the ability to regulate marijuana growing, processing and selling. Many jurisdictions are testing the waters by adopting regulations.

"We will probably not be the only county testing — or being tested," Madding said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.