Dear Pot Lawyer,
Why did Josephine County sue the state? Is Oregon’s legal weed in danger?
I am not sure why Josephine County sued the state, to be honest, but I have a theory. My theory is that the county grew frustrated with weed over a long period of time, and basically lost its mind. This resulted in the lawsuit you mention in Federal District Court. The lawsuit is spiteful and regrettable, and it’s the type of thing Oregon needs to take seriously. But is legal weed in danger? In my opinion, no. This will work itself out.
To really understand what is going on here, it’s important to understand some basic things about Josephine County. The first one is that there is a LOT of cannabis down there. That has always been the case and always will be, regardless of what happens with this lawsuit. Southern Oregon is one of the best places to grow cannabis on the face of the earth, given its soil and climate. Josephine County is used to weed, but much of that is black- and gray-market activity.
The second thing to understand is that the county is in dire straits, economically. Libraries are closing, law enforcement is scant, incomes are skinny, and no one will vote for any tax. It got so bad that a few years back, the county’s 80,000 residents were advised by the sheriff’s office to “consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.” It’s a wide-open place!
All of these issues began around 30 years ago, when new environmental protections began limiting logging on federal land. Back in the day, logging was the big show in Southern Oregon. Today, it seems logical that cannabis could replace timber as a revenue driver. However, the weed tax proceeds kicked down to Josephine County are pretty small in comparison to what is needed for monitoring and enforcement.
Making things worse, pot beefs have escalated between county neighbors, particularly in “rural residential” locales. Because the county has no resources to deal with this, it attempted to block cannabis grows on rural residential land by way of ordinance last year. The county was sued for this in a special land-use court and recently lost, at which point it went bananas and filed this federal lawsuit.
So what does Josephine County want? According to its complaint, the court should declare that federal law trumps Oregon law, and that state pot laws are irrelevant to the county. But I think what it really wants is simply to stop people from growing recreational pot legally on certain types of properties. This seems like a pretty extreme way to get there. Hopefully they can work it out.
A personal note: This is my 100th and final column for the Mercury. I’ve really enjoyed this project, but it’s time to move along. If you are interested in keeping up with cannabis law developments, my firm has published a daily blog for years: cannalawblog.com. See you over there.