Cannabis continues to grow

Greg Holmes
Wed, 08/29/2018 (All day)
Cannabis Grow | Canna Law Blog

Newly legalized cannabis growers are settling in across Oregon. This has been seen as a positive step for legalization proponents, and a challenge for some local communities as they experience a shift in what’s grown from food to cannabis.  

In the November 2017 edition of Oregon Stories we reported on a year-long effort led by the Rogue Valley Food System Network (RVFSN) to facilitate conversations around the coexistence of cannabis and food production in southern Oregon. Speakers at a recent public forum illustrated that as the cannabis industry continues to grow, these conversations continue to be important for finding a long-term balance.

It is not surprising that this is something people feel as strongly about; the cannabis industry is having impacts on many levels. The yellow portions of the graph below illustrate why these changes are being felt particularly strongly in the Rogue Valley’s Jackson and Josephine counties. According to OLCC licensing data, not only are these two counties among the top in total grow sites, but the two of them together have more outdoor grow sites—the locations of which are typically restricted—than all of the other 34 Oregon counties combined.

Data from OLCC public license database; compiled and graphed by SOU researchers

In order to better understand the impacts these changes are having on food production, agriculture, and communities as a whole, 1000 Friends of Oregon worked with partners to conduct stakeholder meetings, a large public forum, a facilitator training, and a series of interactive conversations held in six communities across both counties. During the conversations, local residents were asked to discuss the conflicts or threats they saw, as well as to identify opportunities. Southern Oregon University (SOU) researchers recorded these interactive community conversations and categorized the responses.

One of the categories that produced the most comments was around land use. State regulations that limit the acreage of cannabis grown under a single license, combined with efforts by both counties to prohibit cannabis grows on smaller properties—typically in rural residential areas—have resulted in large parcels being purchased or leased by growers who then only use an acre or two for their grow sites. Among other things, this is resulting in large tracts of exclusive farm use (EFU) land going out of food production. It is also resulting in increased costs to purchase or lease EFU land for food production, making it that much harder to survive in an already-difficult industry.

Grow site in Josephine County using only an acre of the entire parcel.

Independent research being done at SOU has concluded that, although it cannot be quantified at this point, cannabis production is definitely having a negative impact on food production in the region.

Community members also saw opportunities in this situation. This includes suggesting ways that the land surrounding cannabis grows might be made available to new and beginning farmers who could benefit the cannabis operators by helping with weed management and keeping water rights intact. Implementing these suggestions in a widespread way will require more time to build trust and to get some of the regulatory hurdles smoothed out.

Another big focus in the comments from the sessions was around the level and type of regulatory oversight on the industry. Some felt there was not enough, and others felt there was too much. Most agreed, however, that whatever else happens, the state and federal government need to agree on what is legal and what is not, and then a consistent set of regulations needs to be put in place so that everyone knows what is allowed and what to expect.

Additional topics of interest included:

  • Resource use (most notably water)
  • The level of taxation and what happens to the revenues that are generated (it was noted that most of the taxes are distributed based on where the cannabis is sold rather than where it is produced, causing counties like Jackson and Josephine to feel the brunt of the production but get little benefit from the tax revenue)
  • The overall impact that this new level of activity is having on small rural communities (with increased traffic, seasonal workers, light and noise from new operations, and other impacts)

In July of this year the RVFSN hosted another public forum with a panel of speakers who talked about these findings and related new developments. This forum was recorded in its entirety, and can be viewed at this link.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Vincent Smith of SOU (outlining the findings from last year)
  • Sunny Jones, Cannabis Policy Director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture (talking about regulations)
  • Josh LeBombard, Southern Oregon Representative for DLCD (talking about land use issues)
  • Jake Johnstone, Josephine County Watermaster (talking about water use and water rights)
  • Peter Gendron, Cannabis Business Consultant (talking about tax and revenue issues)
  • Elise Higley, Oshala Farm (talking about her experience growing food, herbs and hemp)

Just as wine grapes displaced certain agricultural practices, and before that fruit tree orchards displaced grain and hops operations in the Rogue Valley, the growing cannabis industry will continue to present challenges and opportunities for communities across the state. 1000 Friends will continue to work with our partners to ensure that as things evolve, we move towards a stronger and more diverse agricultural economy, and that the land necessary to support that economy continues to be available.