Don't over-regulate backyard pot gardens
The Medford City Council is considering rules for backyard marijuana growing that are more complicated and restrictive than they need to be. Councilors should tread carefully, or better yet, wait and see what the Legislature decides to do regarding the advent of legal recreational marijuana.
Ballot Measure 91, approved by voters in November, allows adults to possess and consume marijuana recreationally starting July 1. The law also allows an adult to grow up to four plants for personal use.
This has raised concerns about odors in residential neighborhoods, where medical marijuana growing has generated complaints.
The city of Medford has drawn up a series of requirements for backyard growing, but they seem unnecessarily restrictive. A resident wanting to grow four plants would need to obtain a building permit and construct a fence at least 7 feet tall around the garden plot, secured by a lock.
If the yard is already fenced — which most are — that should be enough to satisfy the language of Measure 91, which simply requires that the plants not be visible from neighboring properties and not be accessible to children. A second fence seems redundant.
Requiring a lock on the gate is reasonable. Fines of $250 a day for not complying with these rules are not.
City officials say small backyard plots probably won't generate complaints from neighbors. If that's the case, why make residents go to the trouble and expense of building a special — and potentially expensive — enclosure that likely wouldn't prevent odors from escaping anyway, and levy huge fines if they don't?
It's not uncommon to hear local elected officials, including several on the Medford council, complain about government over-regulation. Sadly, it's also not uncommon to see them turn around and do exactly that themselves.
Large-scale growing operations are a legitimate concern and the city should restrict those. They probably shouldn't be in residential zones anyway. City ordinances don't allow commercial livestock raising or farming in residential neighborhoods.
State lawmakers are working on marijuana regulations during the present legislative session. It may well be that they will address the issue of commercial growing. The city would be well advised to wait and see what emerges from the Legislature before deciding what rules might be needed at the local level.