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Medford City Council votes down residential pot-growing ban, will explore putting issue to voters

The Medford City Council voted down an ordinance Thursday night banning all growing of residential marijuana inside city limits, indoor and outdoor.

However, the council directed city staff to explore putting two ordinances to voters, one banning the outdoor growing of marijuana and the other banning indoor growing of pot.

At the second meeting of the day on the issue, councilors voted 7-1 to reject the ordinance banning outdoor and indoor marijuana growing in residential areas. The motion to have staff explore putting the two ordinances on a future ballot passed 7-1.

The vote and motion came after what was intended to be a 30-minute comment period swelled to 90 minutes of impassioned speeches in favor of recreational cannabis and medical marijuana from growers and users brandishing green ribbons. Earlier Thursday, more than 100 people spoke against the ban before the council decided to hold another meeting later in the day to accept more comments.

"If we're not in favor of this, why not put it to bed," councilor Daniel Bunn said during the Thursday night session after roughly 40 people filled the chamber and addressed the council.

Last week, the council voted 6-2 to ban residential grows. Many councilors said they were receiving complaints from local residents, particularly about the odor of pot gardens.

Bunn, who had been in favor of the motion last week when it was put to a vote, made the motion to put the ban in the hands of voters. 

"We owe it to the community to put the issue behind us," Bunn said.

Bunn said his initial support was rooted in giving the city a uniform rule.

Councilor Kevin Stine, who has opposed the ban, voiced opposition again Thursday night as the council discussed the measure.

“There’s a lot of bad guys out there, and with this ordinance they’re sweeping up a lot of the good guys too,” Stine said.

Stine expressed his support in letting the citizens have their say on the matter. 

Councilor Clay Bearnson, the second councilor who opposed the ban last week, disclosed to the council that he is awaiting approval for a medical marijuana card. He also expressed support of putting the decision in the hands of voters.

"This is a matter of respecting the will of the voters," Bearnson said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler expressed support for putting the ban to a vote.

"It's fine. I'm not trying to hold anyone's feet to the fire," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he would like not to see it in residential areas, and he mildly criticized the drug.

"I don't think it's as benign as it's been made out to be," Wheeler said to audible groans in the council chambers.

"You guys had your chance. This is my turn," Wheeler told the crowd.

Thursday night's decision followed a noon meeting earlier that day, in which an impassioned group of cannabis supporters criticized the council for the proposed ban.

“You are demonizing this issue by creating fear in this community,” said Medford resident and lawyer Robert Graham.

More than 100 people crowded into the council chambers earlier Thursday to voice their concerns about the ban.

When Wheeler said he was going to end any further comment because the council had other pressing issues, the crowd booed.

Wheeler frequently pounded his gavel and attempted to bring order within the council chambers.

The council opted to postpone making a decision on the pot ban until the evening session to allow more people to speak about the issue.

According to the Oregon Public Health Division, there are 1,942 registered medical marijuana growers who have a Medford ZIP code, which represents roughly one-third of the growers in Jackson County. Those numbers don’t include the number of residents who can grow four plants after the passage of Measure 91 last November.

The council previously passed an ordinance that would allow dispensaries in the city as well as permit commercial grow sites in mainly commercial and industrial zoned areas.

Cannabis activist Anthony

(name corrected) Johnson told a group of supporters outside City Hall Thursday afternoon that if the council passed the growing ban, he would push for a court challenge to stop it.

Mandy Valencia, who organized the rally, said in the meeting she objected to councilors saying that some local residents are fearful of pot growers in the city.

“I’d like to ask if all 4 feet, 11 inches of me is scary to you?” she asked the council.

Valencia, who grows in Medford, said medical marijuana patients often seek cannabis for pain relief rather than taking more potent pharmaceutical drugs that can lead to opiate addiction.

“You’ve done such a half-ass effort on how this ban would affect medical marijuana patients,” she said.

Terry Knight said she grows for just one elderly woman with glaucoma.

“I don’t ask for recompense,” she said.

Knight said councilors are asking local marijuana patients to suffer by depriving them of affordable access to their medications.

“People are passionate,” she said. “They feel like their rights are being violated.”

Some cannabis supporters recommended the council at least allow indoor grows, or grows where the odor could be lessened by air filtration systems.

Brent Kenyon, owner of The Wharf Seafood Market and Eatery on West Jackson Street in Medford, said the ban would affect sick and dying patients. He urged the council to avoid passing an ordinance that will prove costly to defend.

“People are going to suffer if you decide to do this,” Kenyon said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm. Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Nov. 21 Correction: In a previous version of the story printed Nov. 20, it incorrectly stated that councilor Mike Zarosinski was the sole councilor in favor of the ban and against putting the ban on the ballot. It was actually councilor Tim Jackle who made a motion in favor of the ban during the evening council meeting, but before Jackle's motion could be voted upon, another motion was made and seconded to table Jackle's motion. All councilors except Jackle voted to table the ban ordinance.

In the story printed Nov. 20 on Medford City Council's discussion on growing marijuana, it incorrectly stated that councilor Mike Zarosinski was the sole councilor in favor of the ban and against putting the ban on the ballot. It was actually councilor Tim Jackle who made a motion in favor of the ban during the evening council meeting, but before Jackle's motion could be voted upon, another motion was made and seconded to table Jackle's motion. All councilors except Jackle voted to table the ban.

A group of marijuana advocates gathered outside Medford City Hall Thursday to oppose the City Council's proposed ordinance that would ban both indoor and outdoor marijuana grows. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Robert Graham, of Medford, addresses the Medford City Council during a second reading of an ordinance that would ban both indoor and outdoor marijuana grows within city limits. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch