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Ashland aims to limit outdoor pot growing

Ashland City Council voted in favor Tuesday of an ordinance regulating the cultivation, production and sale of marijuana inside the city.

Outdoor grows of recreational marijuana will be limited to four plants, with up to six plants allowed if a resident has a medical marijuana card. As written, the ordinance called for no difference between recreational and medical. The liberalized grow cap in residential areas came on a motion from Councilor Stefani Seffinger, who said it’s “the humane thing to do,” to make medical weed more affordable for people who are being “significantly helped” with their cancer, ALS and other ailments.

There's no limit to the number of indoor plants per residential property, but it must be occupied and its primary use must be as a home.

The site of the grow must be no larger than 50 square feet, with plants reaching no more than 10 feet high. The site must be at least 10 feet from the property line, at least 20 feet from other residences and closer to the grower's residence than to dwellings on neighboring properties.

The council rejected amendments from Councilor Greg Lemhouse to require higher (10-foot) fences around residential grows, to not allow plants taller than that fence, to ban grows in R-1 residential zones and to ban pot labs inside the city. 

Lemhouse said Denver’s pioneering pot laws led to growers gobbling up all prime commercial land — and Ashland should avoid “bringing that industry in full force to our small town. I think it’s going to hurt us badly in the long run.” 

He was the only “no” vote on the new law. Councilors Pam Marsh, Carol Voisin, Michael Morris and Seffinger voted for it. Rich Rosenthal was absent.

“I believe,” said Lemhouse, “there should be someplace in the city where you can say, ‘This is where families can be (without pot),' certain places where, if people want to live there, they can, even if they have to pay a premium to live there.” 

Councilors Marsh and Voisin both objected, bringing up the fact that marijuana is legal in Oregon. It was approved by voters in November 2014. As such, said Marsh, “It’s a brand-new world, and we’re trying to figure our way through some murky questions ... that some of us don’t know a lot about.

“We’re depending on common sense and will have to modify, loosen, tighten some of these (requirements) and employ our best logic. ... Our ordinance is very different from Colorado’s,” she said, “but it’s a reasonable start.” 

Lemhouse cautioned that grows are an “attractive nuisance” that beckon to trespassers and burglars, but councilors said there are only a dozen complaints a year about pot and, from a distance, they look a lot like other bushes. 

The council hashed over new layers of bureaucratic tasking, including questions of how enforcement would happen — would it be police or the planning department that responds to citizen complaints or checks on the height and number of plants? Staff said a code enforcement officer would handle it.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which is charged with regulating cannabis sales, will start accepting applications for a range of pot-related licenses Jan. 4 — and grows, staff said, would have to have documentation of “land-use compatibility” — a new task for the city to handle.

Planners told the council they had inserted new language in the law in recent weeks, including a requirement that wholesale grows be added to the list of pot-related businesses that must be 200 feet or more from residential zoning. 

Planners noted this is because the potential impacts — the number of vehicle trips, safety issues, odor, noise, energy and water use — of this relatively new industry are largely unknown.

Voisin unsuccessfully urged an increase in the amount of medical pot that could be grown if two patients live in the residence. Mayor John Stromberg said that problem could be solved with legal indoor growing. Even if multiple marijuana users live in a residence, the number of plants allowed outdoors is limited to four (or six if one or more is a card holder).

Only one person, Shane Christian of Williams, spoke at the public hearing. He warned councilors against restricting much-needed medical pot, adding, “You have not the right to regulate a medical program from your city council. You are only within your rights to regulate recreational cannabis through your land-use laws ... I ask you to have compassion.” 

The ordinance will get a second reading Jan. 5 and could be amended.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.