Legislature grandfathers licensed pot growers

By Jason McMillen of the Daily Courier

The Oregon Legislature on Wednesday declared that existing, licensed marijuana growers are not subject to any new attempts at outright prohibition.

Senate Bill 365 effectively grandfathers licensed growers. After having previously passed the Senate in April, with the assent of Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass, it passed in the House on Wednesday by a largely partisan vote of 40-19.

Four Republicans joined the Democratic majority in supporting the bill, including House Minority Leader Carl Wilson and Rep. Duane Stark, both of Grants Pass.

It now goes to Gov. Kate Brown, who is expected to sign.

The new law is not in conflict with Josephine County’s marijuana regulations, which bar new commercial farms in rural residential areas but permanently grandfathered in existing, legal operations.

However, it does block any new attempts to ban or rezone existing operations.

That includes citizen initiatives, talk of which has been rumored at the local level periodically.

At least one local grower, and likely the pot growing community at large, is on board with the change.

I support municipalities having the ability to place reasonable restrictions on cannabis operations,” said Cedar Grey, owner of marijuana production and processing company Siskiyou Sungrown.

“That said, I believe some municipalities have placed unreasonable restrictions on cannabis and hope this bill will effectively address that issue.”

Grey, whose marijuana farm in the Williams area is on rural residential property, was grandfathered in under the county’s new rules, which were adopted in November.

But he said he felt the squeeze during the long political battle between growers and the county, which initially tried to ban existing grow operations.

The cannabis market also took a dive after prices fell to historic lows due to oversupply, but with the market beginning to stabilize, Grey said politics are what keeps him up at night.

“The most stressful part of the cannabis industry is the constantly changing regulations — there’s never a level playing field,” he said. “I like this bill because some municipalities continue to treat cannabis as if it’s not a commercial crop, when obviously it is.”

Peter Gendron, president of local trade group Oregon SunGrowers Guild, said restrictions at the local level stem from contradictory aspects of state law.

“It says in some places that it’s protected as a farm use crop and in others it isn’t,” Gendron said.

“This bill finally clarifies the rules that actually apply — so it normalized things and will provide guidance for municipalities and jurisdictions that seek to regulate marijuana.”

In addition to limiting local bans, SB 365 restricts local governments from imposing certain development charges and taxes on the marijuana industry.

Between the two new rules, Gendron said that state officials wrote the legislation specifically as a reaction to the activities of Deschutes and Josephine County.

That’s because Deschutes County attempted to target recreational farms with development taxes, while Josephine County attempted to retroactively ban farms.

“The state is trying to avoid a patchwork of rules from county to county because that would be a violation of state farming regulation,” Gendron said.

County Legal Counsel Wally Hicks filed a complaint against a proposed amendment of the bill back in March, but the amendment has since been dropped.

Because of that, he said, the county has no further protest of the bill.

Reach reporter Jason McMillen at 541-474-3718 or jmcmillen@thedailycourier.com.