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Residents complain during pot hearing

Threats to put anti-pot measures on the ballot were juxtaposed against complaints about overregulation during a packed meeting Thursday evening about the future of the burgeoning marijuana industry in Josephine County.

Many in attendance at the Anne Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass complained about the industry, bringing up concerns about traffic, illegal water use, travel trailers moving in, water pollution and even threats of violence.

Others talked up the benefits of marijuana as medicine and an economic boon.

The forum was the third in a series of town halls around the county.

One woman said growers were driving through Louse Creek near Merlin to get to a newly bulldozed grow site, and another said her recreational vehicle resort was surrounded by growing operations, with longtime residents complaining. She also said their concerns have been met by threats.

"Be fair with your regulations," countered one woman, noting there were thousands of medical marijuana patients in the county.

"We're not here to take down government, but we will," warned one grower, saying that the industry is self-regulating.

One person called for measures to keep big growers out.

Josephine County Commissioners Cherryl Walker and Keith Heck listened to about two hours of comments and concerns. Discussion was mainly civil, with several interruptions and a few shouts.

Bill Ghena of Grants Pass said he was interested in starting a petition drive to put limits on the industry, although he later questioned if such a measure would be legal.

In contrast, industry proponent Shayne Christen pointed out there are more than 2,700 medical grows in the county, with more than 6,000 patients.

Measured on a per capita basis, Josephine County has the most grows and patients in the state.

"We've been fighting the state a long time so we could come out of the woods and be legal," Christen added.

Oregon voters two years ago, in a statewide ballot measure, approved the use and growing of recreational pot. However, the measure actually failed in Josephine County by only two votes. Medical marijuana has been legal since 1998.

One source of conflict stems from county rules that allow the growing of agricultural products in rural residential zones — and the state deems pot to be an agricultural product.

People complain daily about the industry, with complaints including ugly fences and an offensive odor, Walker has said. The county is considering setbacks for cannabis gardens, away from property lines. The county also might tax the industry.

"If you're not good neighbors," one man warned growers, "you will be regulated."

One person replied she doesn't like the odor of horse manure either, but that's what you get in a rural area.

Jeff Hildreth of Williams, however, doesn't like the changes brought on by new pot businesses, saying he used to know 90 percent of the people in the community.

"It was a veritable paradise," he said, but no longer. "That town has been completely turned over. I'm talking primarily people from out of state with massive grows."

But Peter Gendron, president of the Williams-based Oregon SunGrown Growers Guild, said Josephine County will be the richer for the industry.

"They are contributing to the economy in a way that is difficult to fathom," he said. "You're going to see benefits to this community."

Public hearings would be held on any new regulations concerning marijuana production. Commissioners already have OK'd marijuana processing activities in commercial zones, and have proposed allowing the growing of pot in industrial areas.

"We are not even thinking about banning marijuana," Heck said. "We want this whole process to be successful."

Thursday's meeting was the third town hall gathering this month on the subject. One more is planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cave Junction County Building, 102 S. Redwood Highway.