School may have little say over hemp

The aroma from ripening hemp crops next to a Medford elementary school is unfortunate for students and staff, but there is probably little the school district can do about it beyond taking steps to filter indoor air.

From September through October, students at Oak Grove Elementary School complained of headaches from the odor of a hemp farm on property next door to the school. Hemp is a non-psychoactive cousin to marijuana, and emits a similar odor as harvest time approaches.

But as annoying as the skunk-like aroma may be, hemp is considered an agricultural crop under state law, and the property next to the school is zoned exclusive farm use. State law protects EFU farm operations from nuisance lawsuits over dust, noise and odors.

It’s unfortunate that some students experienced headaches and feelings of nausea, but state officials say the aroma from cannabis plants does not pose a health risk.

Hemp — used to make rope, textiles, medical extracts and food — is a farm product no different from any other crop. A pig farm or other livestock operation would produce unpleasant odors, too, but as long as the property is zoned for farming, neighbors have little recourse.

That’s not to say that some measures couldn’t be taken to minimize the unwelcome smells. State Sen. Alan DeBoer suggested air scrubbers could be installed to lessen the odor inside the school, and state funds might be available if the school district demonstrated a need.

Michelle Cummings, Medford School District’s chief academic officer, said the district might consider seeking state help with the situation. But protections for farming operations in state law are strong, and are there for a reason. Oak Grove students and staff may have to get used to a new aroma in the fall.

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