State promises more grow site inspections

    An adviser to Gov. Kate Brown told local officials Thursday he expects state inspections of marijuana grow sites to "significantly increase" now that so many growers have been licensed.

    The adviser, Jeff Rhoades, gave no estimates, however, about how many more inspections would take place. A total of 13 medical marijuana grow sites were inspected last year in the Josephine County, out of nearly 2,900 sites.

    Several local officials told Rhoades during a two-hour session that medical marijuana is too loosely regulated in Oregon and that complaints about land-use violations at grow sites, now that recreational use has been legalized, are pouring in.

    Rhoades said proposed legislation would require medical marijuana growers to track a plant from "seed to sale," but Grants Pass Public Safety Director Bill Landis replied that, without enforcement, new laws will have little effect.

    In addition, Landis noted the governor's proposal to eliminate Oregon State Police participation with local drug teams around the state, including in Josephine County, where two Oregon State Police detectives would be lost. Rhoades replied that the state was facing a $1.7 billion shortfall and that budget pressures were extreme.

    When Josephine County Juvenile Justice Director Jim Goodwin expressed concern about a spike in marijuana use among young offenders, Rhoades promised to bring that to the attention of the governor, whose chief concerns, Rhoades said, are "kids and jobs."

    In 2014 and 2015, only 35 and 34 youths, respectively, were referred to Josephine County's juvenile department for marijuana offenses, but that increased to 57 last year and already stood at 28 in the first quarter of this year — a rate that would bring offenses to more than 100, if it continues.

    And that's with the Sheriff's Office making virtually no referrals due to budget cuts, Goodwin said. Most were coming from Grants Pass police.

    "Are other departments seeing similar numbers?" Goodwin asked. "If they are, that's a problem."

    Goodwin urged Rhoades to pass along his request that Brown poll juvenile department managers around the state to see of their numbers are as stark as those he is seeing locally.

    "Other directors around the state would not be happy with me right now," Goodwin said. "Has there been an impact statewide?"

    Rhoades said he has family in Southern Oregon and was well aware of the many issues brought up Thursday by the officials, including Landis, county Sheriff Dave Daniel and Josephine County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Lindi Baker.

    "I feel your pain, too," he said.

    Baker said just that morning she sentenced a medical marijuana grower to six years in prison, mainly for identity theft crimes. The woman told the judge she could make as much in two hours as others could make in a year.

    "It's a cash business, so everyone has lots and lots of cash," Baker said.

    Baker also listed civil lawsuit filings involving landlord-tenant disputes and contract disputes involving marijuana growers and grow site investors.

    Julie Schmelzer, the county's community and economic development director, said her department has a backlog of 327 marijuana-related land-use complaints it has not yet had time to investigate.

    Medical marijuana was the main problem, Schmelzer said. She asked for cooperation from state regulators, and financial assistance from the state.

    "They've created some problems and they have to funnel some money down here," she said.

    "The way it works has not been kind to Josephine County," Rhoades agreed.

    Rhoades also said he was clear there was an oversupply of marijuana being grown in Oregon, especially Southern Oregon, and sold out of state.

    "We have a giant supply-side problem," he said. "We need to figure out a way to deal with that problem. We have way too much production and nowhere go."

    — Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or

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