Commissioners get an earful about marijuana grows
A public hearing Wednesday about a proposed tax on the retail sale of marijuana in Josephine County blossomed to include comments about problems with marijuana growing operations.
No opposition to the tax surfaced from a handful of people who addressed the county Board of Commissioners at the Basker Auditorium, although there were plenty of suggestions about how to spend the money — including education, treatment, health and public safety programs.
But the subject of the hearing and a later comment period grew to include complaints about marijuana growing operations, including complaints that they use too much water, smell skunky, are enclosed by ugly fences and allow pesticides to float away on the wind.
Larry Ford of Grants Pass felt that little revenue would come from the tax, because marijuana growers will merely continue illegal trade. He suggested, too, that growers were using well water illegally, thus depleting groundwater.
"Drive down any road" and you'll see marijuana grows, Ford said. "With all the grows that are starting, I guarantee you people are not conforming."
John Moskovita of Colonial Valley said his well has virtually gone dry since a growing operation went in next to his property.
"I'm down to nothing," he said, adding that he didn't like the skunk-like smell of the marijuana and the smell of pesticides.
Moskovita said he was going to try to round up neighbors with similar problems to protest at upcoming hearings. Another hearing on the tax is set for Aug. 10 before the Board of Commissioners, and a hearing about possible new land-use regulations is expected to be held sometime in August before the county's Rural Area Planning Commission.
One possible new land-use rule might require growing operations to be a certain distance from property lines. As for water-use violations, those issues are investigated by the state Water Resources Department.
There are nearly 2,500 medical marijuana growing sites and more than 100 licensed recreational marijuana growers approved in Josephine County, according to the latest state statistics.
Commissioner Simon Hare told the audience that complaints are flooding in about water use, public safety, fencing and code enforcement issues related to marijuana. The complaints typically wind up at the county's planning department.
"They're overwhelmed," he said of planning staff, adding that the state has not made provisions to adequately fund enforcement.
"They don't think about all the impacts negatively where this stuff's being grown," Hare said.
On the plus side, Hare noted that there are some nice fences being built. And, suppliers of garden, soil and irrigation products and services are doing some of their best business ever.
Commissioners have proposed a 3 percent tax on the retail sale of marijuana outside of the cities of Grants Pass and Cave Junction. Voters would have to approve it, on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Revenue likely would be paltry — under $15,000, according to county estimates — unless state legislators allow a tax on wholesale sales. The county tax would be on top of a 17 percent state tax on retail sales.
Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or email@example.com.