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A hemp headache for county marijuana committee

Jackson County’s “green rush” is in full swing — and local officials are struggling to satisfy those who love it and those who don’t.

Caught in the middle is the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Committee, whose job is to advise the Board of County Commissioners “on issues related to marijuana, including issues presented by production, processing, wholesaling and distribution.”

Members of the committee wade at every meeting through a sea of information about marijuana, as well as its botanical cousin hemp.

Some on the committee wonder whether dealing with newly legalized hemp will distract from issues related to marijuana, which is regulated by a different state agency and remains illegal at the federal level.

“If we’re going to take on hemp, we may need to think about restructuring the committee,” said committee co-chair Susan Rachor, who represents rural property owners on the advisory body. “Instead of just sidestepping that issue, I think we need to address it.”

The committee has made just a single recommendation since convening in March 2018 — advising the commissioners to institute “yearly inspections of marijuana operations.”

The committee’s last meeting — held Aug. 12 — highlighted the mass of differences between marijuana and hemp, and the complexity of taking on both. Discussion meandered from establishing annual inspections at grows and processing facilities to establishing setbacks from schools for hemp grows on exclusive farm use land, and requiring signs that declare marijuana grows “are compliant or in the process of becoming compliant.”

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said the county has been playing catchup for years dealing with issues of legal and illegal marijuana operations.

Despite the small measure of progress made so far, the committee and members of the public who have attended meetings have learned about each other in the past year and a half, he said.

“I think the benefit of this committee is it has brought people together that have different views, different responsibilities,” he said.

The 10-member Marijuana Advisory Committee includes law enforcement, county code enforcement, citizens, medical and recreational marijuana business owners and a pear farmer.

Since complaints about hemp began ramping up last fall, members have tried to familiarize themselves with the ways that non-high-inducing hemp requires a different approach from marijuana when working with unhappy neighbors and curbing illegal activity.

County Commissioner Rick Dyer, a nonvoting member of the committee, said it can be frustrating to navigate those differences.

But he said hemp is “becoming more and more of an issue that impacts residents.”

At the Aug. 12 meeting, Rachor echoed community concerns about hemp being grown or processed near schools. Like 44% of voters in Jackson County, she voted against legalization of marijuana.

Rachor doesn’t think students should be able to see hemp or marijuana near their schools, or smell it during the fall harvest season.

Some parents, students and staff at Oak Grove Elementary School were displeased with nearby hemp grows last fall, complaining of headaches and nausea from the smell.

Committee members wondered whether similar situations will arise this fall. Jackson County Code Enforcement provided maps of 23 schools in the county that are located adjacent to exclusive farm use land where hemp can be grown.

Oregon’s Right to Farm law bars local jurisdictions from restricting agricultural activities based on a variety of factors, including smells.

The committee did not vote to take any actions related to schools this month.

But Cheryl Johnson, who owns a cannabis edibles company called West Coast Baked Goodness, said the committee should continue pushing for annual inspections, especially for marijuana extraction operations.

“What I would like to see is a situation where buildings are inspected on a yearly basis to make sure what’s in them is actually in them,” she said.

There, too, the committee has to navigate state laws and county land use ordinances governing where and how extraction operations can function.

In addition, it will have to determine whether the county’s already-strained code enforcement team can handle additional regulations and inspections.

As with hemp grows, CBD extraction from hemp is regulated differently than THC extraction from marijuana plants.

The committee didn’t hold a vote regarding inspections at the meeting.

Dyer said it’s not out of the question that the Board of Commissioners would choose to deal with hemp in a separate body.

“Any time there’s a need, there’s a benefit to be had by empaneling citizens to advise the commissioners,” he said.

The Marijuana Advisory Committee, whose members encourage the public to attend, meets again Sept. 9 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA large hemp field near Jacksonville.