Commissioners last week named 10 people to their new Cannabis Advisory Panel, representing the cannabis industry, neighbors, regulators and policymakers. The panel’s first meeting hasn’t been announced, but committee meetings are expected to be a time for insider debate and public discourse.
“I think it creates a place for open dialogue and also a place for people with questions,” said panel member Amanda Metzler, a state-licensed recreational marijuana grower from Williams who also is president of an industry group called FARMS, Inc., which represents growers.
A time will be set aside during meetings to take public comments and questions, she said. Subjects expected to be up for discussion include water theft, law enforcement, and worries about cross-pollination from industrial hemp.
Board Chairman Darin Fowler spearheaded formation of the group.
“I think it’s timely,” Fowler said last week, when commissioners appointed the panel members. “We’ve been on a marijuana rollercoaster.”
Cannabis was legalized in stages in Oregon, beginning with medical marijuana in 1998, recreational marijuana in 2014 and hemp in 2018, with each stage bringing problems and opportunities. Illegal operations, explosive growth and neighborhood opposition topped the list of past — and in some cases present — concerns.
The county has tried this before.
Commissioners in July 2017 formed a cannabis advisory committee, but pro-industry and anti-pot interests on the panel led to gridlock and eventual disinterest and abandonment in November 2018. What’s different is that the new panel brings local regulators and law enforcement to the table. Plus, times have changed, too.
“It’s not technically coming back,” Metzler said. “It’s a reformation.”
The first panel tried to operate when recreational use of marijuana was newly legal and there was a green rush of new growers in the valley. Laws and regulations were changing fast, with the county struggling to create land-use rules.
The county eventually settled on a new annual compliance program for industry operators that’s still in its infancy as well as a ban on new cannabis cultivation in rural residential zones that took effect last year.
The new panel is designed after one in Jackson County. Like its predecessor, the new group features members representing the cannabis industry in particular and the community in general, but the inclusion of enforcement agency panelists is new.
Those members include representatives from the sheriff’s office; state watermaster office, and county planning/code enforcement, plus a commissioner. The watermaster, county planning and commissioner won’t vote, but can advise. Fowler will be the commissioner to serve on the panel.
“I think in this format it is built for success,” said Commissioner Lily Morgan. “We had some great applicants.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung agreed.
“We’ve got a really good cross-section of people that’s open-minded,” DeYoung said. “I look for big things to come out of this.”
DeYoung told Fowler he will be in a position to referee the debate.
“Bring your striped shirt and whistle,” he advised.
Fowler has taken on hemp issues since coming into office early last year. He hosted a packed-house hemp forum at the county fairgrounds last August that drew about 200 people.
Hemp burst onto the scene in such a way last year that Fowler at the time said he was considering the wisdom of a moratorium on hemp operations. Issues at the time included water theft and land use violations. Since then, hemp production is down and enforcement agencies have been beefed up.
“Those are the kind of issues that I think this group will be able to address — ways we can change codes and do enforcement and try to make sure we’re being good neighbors,” Fowler said. “This group will be a sounding board for the commissioners to ask questions, and they will have recommendations.”
Illegal camping at grow sites has been a continuing issue. Fowler last week mentioned “three motor homes and three tractors” at grow sites not being the ideal neighbor.
Cross-pollination remains an issue, too, although no industrial hemp for fiber is being grown yet in the valley, according to Metzler, who lobbied the Legislature earlier this year on the issue. Hemp can pollinate marijuana plants, making them less productive.
Besides Metzler and the non-voting agency representatives, the panelists include Bob Crouse, who operates Fort Vannoy Farms and is president of the Josephine County Farm Bureau; Lorianne Carey, an organic farmer and a member of the Williams Watershed Council; and Rhea Miller, a recreational marijuana farmer from the Illinois Valley.
County residents Hameed Shakeri and Penni Wicks round out the panel.
Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.