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Marijuana: the New Year’s Miracle of 2015

For the past 10 to 15 years, every time a medical marijuana grower was raided, a spokesperson for the marijuana lobby would get in front of a camera or give a statement to a reporter saying words to the effect of “patients will suffer," or “where will my patients get their medicine?” The message discipline of the lobby was and continues to be highly effective. How could any caring person deny a patient their medicine?

So, it was nothing short of miraculous on Jan. 1, 2015, when personal possession of marijuana became legal, that suddenly enough marijuana became available for massive free marijuana giveaways in several locations throughout the valley.

Where did that marijuana come from? It hadn’t been legal to grow for any reason other than medical use and, according to the marijuana lobby, any single bust put patients at risk. Growers were supposedly only growing a limited amount of marijuana for specific patients. Either this was a miracle of biblical proportions (think loaves and fishes), or it was exhibit A as to why the public should have little or no confidence in the veracity of the medical marijuana industry.

The reason the medical marijuana industry’s credibility and behavior is relevant is that a lawsuit has been initiated by the industry after Jackson County moved to halt the conversion of rural residential property to intensive marijuana growing. Such intensive practices include intensely bright growing lights, exhaust fans and smelly plants growing close to property lines .

According to an article in the Mail Tribune, a spokesperson for the medical marijuana industry complained that the proposed regulations would prohibit the operations of “6,000 growers.” This was hyperbole of the highest order, and that is using the polite term.

In effect, the medical marijuana industry is trying to destroy the land-use planning that has helped protect farm land from development, provided areas where retail and commercial activities predominate and has designated appropriate areas for residential purposes for the past 40 years. If intensive agriculture is allowed to occur in rural residential neighborhoods, why not housing developments in a forest resource area, or retail stores on a suburban street? Why should medical marijuana be a uniquely permitted activity?

Some of us in the marijuana hot spots have seen little credibility in the medical marijuana program since shortly after it began. The program said that growers could only collect a fee based on the cost of utilities and supplies and precluded being compensated for labor or profit. The initiative, however, also made sure that there were no requirements for paperwork regarding costs, nor were random site inspections allowed.

The initiative seemed to promise that growers would have no motivation other than altruism — just a bunch of Mother Teresas delivering medicine to the needy! What the law delivered was a lucrative, tax-free and unregulated business. If you doubt that, you should have been at the meetings held by the county, where an auditorium packed with medical marijuana growers complained that proposed regulations would put them out of “business.”

The availability of marijuana over the past four decades became the most rational reason for legalization. If it was so easy to obtain, why not legalize marijuana and bring it out into the open? Oregon, and specifically Jackson County, is awash in marijuana. Reasonable regulation to protect residential neighborhoods will not decrease the supply, only direct production to areas appropriate for intense growing practices.

Medical marijuana undoubtedly has legitimate uses that will expand even more with research. Patients should have access to all safe and effective medicines. The industry’s lack of candor and dismissal of the concerns of non-growing rural residents, however, uses patients with serious medical problems as a shield to justify essentially unlimited growing in areas that have been zoned residential.

So, please, the next time a medical marijuana spokesperson talks about how unfair it is to halt further marijuana growing for profit in rural residential neighborhoods, remember the New Year’s Miracle of 2015, and decide for yourself whether you want the medical marijuana industry deciding whether rural neighborhoods are primarily for residences or for intensive drug production.

Ken Chapman has lived in the Applegate Valley for 45 years.