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Pot rules will help keep the peace

We don't see a lot to take issue with in Jackson County's proposed rules for growing and processing marijuana. There are no doubt a few tweaks that could be made, but in general it appears the rules would allow ample growing while providing some protection for neighbors.

The proposal would establish mandatory buffers between neighbors and the crops — which are notoriously malodorous near harvest time — and require growers to have legal water rights. It also establishes the size and type of structures that may be built for processing, as well as regulations on nighttime lighting and odor filtration systems for indoor operations. And it sets up no-grow zones near schools, parks and a few other sites.

The biggest sticking point in a Dec. 3 public hearing was the buffers. Advocates for growers said requiring a 250-foot separation from neighboring property lines would severely limit many property owners, some of whom have long narrow lots. One woman said it would prevent her from growing marijuana on her 2-acre property.

There undoubtedly will be some adversely affected by the rules — just as there have been rural property owners affected for as long as land-use rules have existed. But planners should keep their eyes on the larger goals of allowing marijuana crops in appropriate locations while providing neighbors with at least minimal protection. 

We agree that requiring a buffer from a neighbor's unoccupied property makes little sense and suggest the rules should be amended to specify a minimum separation from nearby dwellings. The property line has no nose; the protection should be for people living on the neighboring sites.

There have been concerns expressed that some marijuana growers are illegally tapping water sources to slake their plants' considerable thirst. Given current and ongoing water concerns, it is inarguable that marijuana farmers must follow existing water law. It is equally reasonable to expect them to meet modified building standards for any processing facilities built on rural lands.

Marijuana farmers may demand that they be given the protections of Oregon's right-to-farm laws, which essentially say that any legal farming practice on agricultural land cannot be blocked unless it damages a neighbor's crop or property. They could win that argument, but it could prove to be a pyrrhic victory. While it seems marijuana legalization will continue to roll forward, if it affects the quality of life for others, it will face a much rockier path.

Farmers have at times found themselves limited by neighbors, who move in next to an operation and then complain about the noise or smell. This is the reverse of that situation, with the residential neighbors staking first claim and the farmers coming in behind them with a new and problematic crop. It makes sense for the county to set boundaries to protect both — and the marijuana growers who take the long view in this process will recognize that.